Western Rail Road Museum
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Museum History

In 1946, a group of like-minded individuals learned that an old Oakland streetcar that they had chartered for a day’s outing was to be scrapped within a week. They immediately dug into their pockets and gathered together enough money to buy the car right there on the spot. In this spirit of philanthropy and historic preservation, the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association was created to foster interest in streetcar, interurban, and mainline electric railroad operations, and to preserve these rapidly vanishing pieces of history.

In the following years, many interurbans and streetcars were collected, as well as smaller artifacts such as photographs, corporate records, books, fare boxes, and signage. By 1960, the need for a permanent site was clear. Rio Vista Junction, an actual stop on the electrically powered Sacramento Northern main line in Solano County, was selected as the museum site, and the task of transforming 22 vacant acres into a living history museum began. In 1985, the name "Western Railway Museum" was officially adopted.

Click here for more information about joining the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association as a member, donor, or volunteer.

During 1993, the Union Pacific Railroad made a gift of 22 miles of right-of-way to our museum. Donations from museum members and friends enabled us to purchase the rails, ties, and associated hardware. This donation was significant, not only because we can now recreate an authentic interurban trip, but also because the right-of-way was originally built as an electric interurban line: the Oakland, Antioch, and Eastern (later known as the Sacramento Northern). To date, five miles have been rehabilitated to the original standards, using drawings and schematics preserved in our own archives.

In 2001, the Museum's new 12,000 sq ft Visitors and Archives Center opened. The new facility, designed in the mission revival style, radically changes the visitors’ experience at the Museum. Visitors now park in a large paved parking lot with plenty of space for buses and RV’s.

In 2004, work began on the Loring C. Jensen Memorial Car House, a fully enclosed, publicly accessible artifact storage and display facility. The $2.5 million facility is the biggest and most-expensive project in our history to-date. It was completed and officially opened to the public on May 3, 2008. Once daily public guided tours are now given every day the Museum is open.

interior of car house External view of car house tour

To download the Final Project Report as a 1.5 MB .pdf file, click here.

In 2010, two major operational restorations were debuted.

San Francisco Municipal Railway PCC Streetcar #1016 made its inaugural run at the Museum on Saturday July 10, 2010. It is the first car in the last streetcar order San Francisco's Municipal Railway placed with the St. Louis Car Company in 1951. It was purchased by the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association in October 1982 when it came out of service, and has been preserved at the Western Railway Museum ever since.

A team of volunteers led by Museum board member David Buechler spent 4 years restoring the MUNI #1016 to its "as-built" condition. When originally purchased by MUNI, it cost just $34,940. The Museum's restoration project cost nearly as much: over $30,500 in parts and materials, with all of the labor being donated by volunteers. To make the car operable again, volunteers restored the roof, flooring, interior light fixtures, and seats; refurbished the body; painted the interior and exterior of the car; and replaced all eight wheels.

After a decade in the Western Railway Museum restoration shop, Sacramento Northern interurban #1005 made its debut on Saturday, September 18, 2010. SN #1005 is a true Bay Area native. It was built by the Holman Car Company of San Francisco in 1912 for the Oakland, Antioch and Eastern Railroad which ran from Oakland to Sacramento on the very tracks the Museum now owns and operates. The O, A & E was merged with the Northern Electric Railway to eventually form the Sacramento Northern Railway.

The car was first acquired by the parent organization of the Western Railway Museum, the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association, in May 1951 when it came out of service. It was used on many excursion trips around California before the Western Railway Museum was founded in 1960. It has been preserved at the Western Railway Museum ever since.

With the investment of over $175,000 from concerned historic preservationists and 10,000 hours of donated volunteer labor (valued at $450,000) led by Museum Electric Car Superintendent David Johnston with assistance from professional restoration expert Glenn Guerra, the car has been restored to its 1934 condition.

On June 30, 2012 the Western Railway Museum opened a new segment of track for our interpretive ride on the historic Sacramento Northern right-of-way. Visitors can now take a 10-mile round trip ride all the way from the Museum, past the historic Shiloh Church and Gum Grove (site of our annual Pumpkin Festival), over Shiloh Road and all the way to Birds Landing Road.

The museum is supported by 1200 members, 125 volunteers, admission receipts, museum store sales, and tax-deductible donations from organizations, friends, visitors, and members of the museum.