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Iron Horses in the Golden State:
A Whistle-Stop Tour
Through the California Countryside

California's history is filled with visionary pioneers, free thinkers, captains of commerce, whimsical vagabonds, edgy entrepreneurs and legends of letters.

And trains.

Railroads helped to open the West, and had huge impact on California history and life. With the connection of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, trains brought people to California and provided a means of exporting made-in-California products, ideas and attitudes across North America.

The rich legacy of railroading is particularly evident in the smaller cities, towns and whistle-stops of the California Countryside.

Train One: The Transcon

California's contribution to the Transcontinental Railroad, the Central Pacific Railroad started in Sacramento and headed eastward through the rugged Sierra Nevada range.

The Central Pacific stretched 690 miles from Sacramento to Promontory, Utah, where it met the Union Pacific to span the continent. The Central Pacific was bankrolled by four of California's financial giants - Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, Leland Stanford, and Charles Crocker. Men drawn to the nation's western horizon by prospects of finding mineral riches in California, the "Big Four" instead found a gold mine in investing in the railroad.

The majority of workers who performed the dangerous and backbreaking labor of laying track through California's soaring Sierra granite and into the searing western plains were Chinese immigrant workers. Originally considered too slight to do the work, the Chinese made perhaps the greatest contribution toward completing the Transcontinental Railroad.

The Transcontinental Railroad spawned a golden era of railroad development in California. The opportunity to link to the commercial opportunities of a national and international distribution network stimulated the building of railways up, down and across the Golden State. Interests ranging from agricultural to mining to travel invested in the dream. Today, tracking the state's train heritage is a great way to see the California Countryside.

California Train History, Yesterday & Today

Trains are alive and well in California, with Amtrak (www.amtrak.com) offering a comprehensive travel train network that can transport visitors to virtually every corner of the state. But that's just the contemporary side of the tracks. California rail lore lives on and is very accessible to travelers.

"California was brought into the Union as a state quite literally with the 'promise of the railroad' in the minds of those who were behind the transition," says Paul Hammond, the California State Railroad Museum and Foundation's director of marketing. "When the Transcontinental Railroad became a reality, the growth and development of modern-day California was truly underway," Mr. Hammond adds.

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