Railroad museum’s annual event makes a great October daytripPosted on October 22, 2008 – 4:46 PM | by OldManFoster
Story and photos by William Burg
While it is simple enough to pick up a suitable Halloween pumpkin at the local supermarket, your annual quest for a jack o’ lantern can instead be a fun daytrip. One of the most unique places in northern California to pick your pumpkin is at the Western Railway Museum’s Pumpkin Patch Festival.
The Western Railway Museum’s mission is to preserve California’s electric railroad history. The museum’s location, Rio Vista Junction, is out on Highway 12 between Rio Vista and Suisun. This remote site seems unusual, but its location was once the site of the Sacramento Northern Railway’s right-of-way between Sacramento and Oakland. The museum operates electric trains on a long stretch of the Sacramento Northern main line south of Rio Vista Junction, formerly a small passenger station. The station was once used as a transfer point from SN trains to bus connections running between Suisun and Rio Vista.
Ordinarily, the Western Railway Museum’s main attractions are its collection of streetcars, interurban passenger trains, and other railroading equipment, and rides on the restored streetcars. The annual Pumpkin Patch Festival, operating on Saturdays and Sundays from October 11-26 this year, combines electric railroading history with Solano County’s agricultural heritage by placing its pumpkin patch in a remote spot called Gum Grove, accessible only by taking the museum’s electric trains.
Gum Grove is a shady grove of trees located five miles south of the museum, right next to the old Sacramento Northern main line. The Museum runs trains to the pumpkin patch every half-hour, using their big Key System bridge units. These articulated cars, built to operate on the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and the East Bay, were built in 1939. They are the largest operating cars in the museum’s collection. They are needed, because the Pumpkin Patch is the museum’s most popular attraction, sometimes drawing more than 2000 visitors a day.
Gum Grove is a pleasant and comfortably shady spot, with pumpkins scattered everywhere for purchase. Local farmers provide tractor-powered hayrides through nearby fields, and a massive hay fort dominates the center of Gum Grove, providing a great play space for kids. In addition to pumpkins, visitors can buy baked goods and preserves, hot dogs and sodas. Live bands including the Limber Jim Bartz Band and the Hipwaders entertain visitors, and the local 4-H Club provides farm animals for a petting zoo. Three local Rotary Club chapters help operate the pumpkin patch, and part of the funds generated go to local charities and community organizations.
For adolescent kids too old to find hay forts and petting zoos entertaining, or the merely adolescent at heart, the Montezuma Fire District offers a “Punkin Chunkin” station, where visitors can use a gigantic slingshot to hurl pumpkins at far-off targets. Purchase your ammunition at the Pumpkin Patch, pay a small fee, and thrill to the resounding splat of pumpkin mayhem!
In addition to the pumpkin patch, visitors can explore the Western Railway Museum’s car barns, containing restored streetcars and interurbans from around the country. The museum specializes in equipment from northern California railroads, like Sacramento Northern, San Francisco Municipal Railway, Key System, PG&E/Sacramento City Lines, and Central California Traction.
The trip to the Western Railway Museum can be a day trip in its own right. The simplest way to get from Sacramento to Rio Vista Junction is to take Interstate 80 to Davis, then take Highway 113 south to Highway 12. This route is direct, taking about 40 minutes. For those who prefer to wander their way down, the delta route via Highway 160 provides a slower but more scenic route. Stops in small Delta towns like Locke, Clarksburg, Walnut Grove or Isleton add considerable sightseeing value and some great options for lunch before the Pumpkin Patch or dinner afterward, including Giusti’s in Walnut Grove, Al the Wop’s in Locke, or the Dinky Diner in Clarksburg. Head north on Highway 12 through Rio Vista to reach Rio Vista Junction.
Another option, for those who prefer not to drive, is to take the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train to Suisun and catch the local “Delta Breeze” commuter shuttle. The Breeze connects directly with Amtrak trains, and takes passengers to the front door of the Western Railway Museum. More information about taking transit to the Western Railway Museum can be found at http://www.ci.rio-vista.ca.us/transit, and the museum’s main website, http://www.wrm.org, has more details about Museum events like the Pumpkin Train.
So, why just pick any old pumpkin from the supermarket when you can take a journey that includes a scenic trip, sights to see, and a large dose of good old-fashioned fun for all ages? Take the Pumpkin Train, and make this year’s jack o’ lantern one with a story behind it.