MARIPOSA — Sitting back in a passenger car listening to a train whistle blow takes one back about 100 years. Life slows down as the scenery unfolds while crossing the foothills just outside Jamestown.
From its earliest days, the locomotive has been a symbol of progress and industrial strength in America. Railway travel is an important part of America's history, especially during the expansion of the West.
A few historic trains still carry passengers in California today.
Through Aug. 28, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park will run its diesel train on Wednesdays, as well as on weekends and holidays. Passengers may board for the noon ride or at 2 p.m. for the six-mile, 45-minute trip.
The "Movie Railroad" takes riders where famous movies and television shows were filmed. Anyone who has watched "Santa Fe Trail," "Back to the Future," "Bonanza" or "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr." has seen Railtown's historic trains.
From April through October, Railtown 1897 is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with hourly train departures from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Tours of the shop
On Tuesday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon, shop tours take place. Visitors enjoy seeing how routine maintenance and specialized work goes on in the roundhouse and the Tri-Dam shop.
Parts for steam engines and many vintage diesel locomotives are constructed on site. The educational tour gives an insider's look at the railroad's fascinating history.
The Singing Rails Railroad Music Festival and Competition is now accepting registrations for its event, to be held at Railtown 1897 on Aug. 3. Vocal and instrumental music must fit the railroad theme.
The categories are vocal, guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and miscellaneous (washboard, harmonica, dulcimer, autoharp, etc.) The best vocally generated train sound has a category all its own.
Each contestant may enter as many categories as he or she would like.
Many songs have been written over the past two centuries displaying the folklore, history and romance of train travel. Contestants may choose from traditional, modern or original music for their performances.
Tickets for excursion train rides are available online at www.railtown1897.org or at the ticket window, beginning at 10 a.m. on excursion days. Call (209) 984-3953 or go to the website for details.
And to the south
The Sugar Pine Railroad is just outside the south entrance to Yosemite on Highway 41. Passengers may board a logger steam train, a jenny railcar or ride the Moonlight Special.
Two large, steam-powered Shay locomotives ride the rails among shady pine trees and bear clover. Each weighs more than 55 tons, and requires nearly 1,000 gallons of fuel oil and at least 3,000 gallons of water to operate.
The Moonlight Special runs Wednesday and Saturday nights during the summer. A New York steak barbecue, old-fashioned ballads and toe-tapping music around the campfire add charm to the evenings. Occasionally the Golden Chain Theatre of Oakhurst presents a melodrama.
Reservations are encouraged, and gold panning, group events and field trips are available. Go to www.ymsprr.com or call (559) 683-7273 for schedules and details.