Road Trip #4: Railtown 1897

About two hours east of Alameda, in the foothills of the Sierra mountains is a small town with a big focus on trains. Not modern trains though. Steam trains mainly, and one old diesel loco.

Railtown 1897 is part of the California State Park system, but the trains are operated by volunteers. Entry into the park comes with a ticket for a train ride, and includes a walking tour of the roundhouse, the old machine shop and part of the train yard, as well as a brief history of the Sierra Railway system, and its relationship with Hollywood for both movies and TV shows.

Getting There

Unlike previous trips, I did not remember to charge to 100% the night before the trip (we started at 86%). That would have been enough to make it to the park with around 35% remaining, but Jamestown (the actual name of the town where Railtown is located), is a bit of the beaten track and it would have been a little bit of a stretch to get back to Tracy for a rapid charger.

Instead, we took a short break (which my daughter appreciated more than anybody I think) in Oakdale and plugged into a Chargepoint rapid for a little while to top up.

Charging at a Chargepoint DC charger

The two DC chargers, and a dual AC charger, were in the parking lot of a thrift store. We had q a quick look around there, and I resisted the temptation to buy a vintage Underwood typewriter. My daughter did pick up something small, then they walked over to a nearby Starbucks for a cold drink and a restroom break.


The road into Jamestown is mostly single lane each way, but an easy drive with long sweeping curves and straight sections. We made good time, arriving at the park around 12:30am. The next train was at 1:30pm, so we bought the tickets, and then went back into town for lunch at Pizza Plus. In addition to the obvious, they also have a well stocked, self service salad bar and sandwiches on the menu.

The kids went fo individual size pizzas, my wife did the salad and sandwich lunch special, and I took a pizza and salad lunch special. The food came out fast, and we were able to sit outside and eat (though I think others thought we were mad as it was around 95℉ at the time).

Vintage car parked in front of Pizza Plus

The Train Ride

The train ride, pulled out to a quarry by a steam locomotive, included a guide over the speaker system explaining what we were passing, whether from the days of the railway being a working railroad or from its time being used in movies and TV shows.

We had booked outside seating, but when we boarded, with the COVID precautions they were taking, all the outdoor seating in our assigned car had been occupied. Seems at least one group who had not booked the outdoor option had decided those seats looked better than the indoor ones. A little frustrating, but we sat at the doorway and all the windows were open in the center section.

Once we reached the quarry, we had to wait for the fire patrol vehicle to pass by – they follow the train in a small “car” to make sure nothing sparks a wildfire – then they unhitch the locomotive from one end of the train and move it to the other. Then we headed back down the same track to the park station. A little faster on the return it seemed. Just before we got back to the station, they stopped at one of the water towers to take on more water for the next run.

Roundhouse Tour

Back at the park, we had a quick walkthrough of a working caboose (brake van), then on to the roundhouse tour.

Starting at the end of the building where the gift shop was located, we then walked over to the end of the roundhouse nearest where we started with a look at another of the small car-like vehicles the railway used to get around. This one had an interesting modification – a built in turntable. Seems that it was OK going forwards, but when run in reverse the lack of airflow over the radiator caused it to overheat. To solve the problem, they attached a turntable under the center of the vehicle, then, when they needed to turn it, they could jack it up under the turntable and spin the whole car around to face the way they wanted to go.

If you look carefully at the train wheel in the middle of the slideshow you might notice that it does not look like a normal train wheel with the flange on the inside to keep it on the rail. The longer locomotives on the Sierra Railway had these “blind drivers” in the middle of the set of 8 wheels to allow them to make tighter turns that would normally be possible with a loco of this size. Without the flanges, the wheels could actually slide off the track in the tighter bends.

Another special engine you might notice in that slideshow, although the number is hard to see in the small photo, is the number 2 engine. This is an unusual geared “Shay Locomotive.” These were much more powerful, and could pull pretty much anything, and were also more tolerant of lower quality rails (typically temporary rails). They were often used for logging where they would run on temporary track, which would then be taken up and moved to the next location when the job was done. The only downside to these was that the gearing made them very slow, and the location of the pistons right by the cab, made them hotter to operate too.

Movies and TV Shows

The railway had been used on a number of TV shows and movies. From the wall showing a timeline of the movies and TV shows, the ones I remembered were:

  • Back to the Future III – the wild west version of the town was set in the area, and the train used to accelerate the DeLorean to 88 mph for its jump through time is one of the trains in the roundhouse.
  • An episode of the A Team
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E

There were many, many more though which made use of the trains and/or the area.

Heading Home

After getting out Jamestown, we made a brief stop at Chinese Camp (not much to see there), then blasted along the beautifully smooth road back towards Oakdale. A brief stop at a roadside stand in Manteca allowed me to grab a photo of the trip statistics to that point from the Taycan:

Taycan trip statistics, 3.6 mi/kWh

For sure, the Taycan is not going to win any awards for the most efficient EV on the road, but to be honest people buying a sports car, electric or ICE, are unlikely to ever win awards for that. I was impressed with 3.6 mi/kWh, especially considering a large part of the drive had been at freeway speeds. In fact, the average was climbing during that part of the drive, making me wonder when the Taycan is more efficient at higher speeds (“honest officer, I was just trying to be more fuel efficient”).

Rapid Charge

While it looked like we would make it home without an extra charge, the Livermore outlet mall is one of the Electrify America locations with the 350 kW chargers, so we stopped off there to see whether we could try one out. Once we found them (around the back of the outlet mall, near the kids’ playground and the Tesla superchargers (EA are closer to the mall down the same row as the Tesla ones), we pulled up to a 350 kW unit (there are only two, the rest of the line being 150 kW units), plugged in and started the charge. The unit initially reported that we were getting 258 kW which is a lot faster than I normally see on the 150 kW units, where getting over 100 kW is rare for some reason. We went from 17% to 84% (showing an estimated range of over 210 miles) in just 23 minutes. We only had enough time to walk to the center of the mall and order cold drinks before we had to head back.

Should also point out that the line of EA chargers was empty except for a Bolt who was sitting in the second 350 kW bay, but not charging (the Bolt can’t even take advantage of a 350 kW unit). On the other hand, the Tesla units – at least double the number of EA ones – were all occupied and there was a line of cars waiting for them. Wonder how long it will take fo the EA ones to fill up to the same degree.

Rapid DC vs Destination AC

This does raise the question of whether these very high speed chargers are the right fit for a shopping mall. If all I need is 20 minutes and then I have to move the car to another spot, I may as well just charge and leave (which is what we did!). No incentive to stay and shop, especially if I have to then hunt for another space.

Final Statistics

The final statistics for the return journey were:

Final statistics for return journey

The journey to the park was a similar distance, but had a slightly lower consumption of 2.9 mi/kWh. Both records for the trips we have done so far in the Taycan. The time and average speed are down a little because of stops where some of us stayed in the car, so it was still on to keep us cool. On the way up we averaged 52 mph and recorded 2:32 over 128.0 miles.

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