Next to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento is a large, somewhat tired-looking complex which proudly bears the label “Sacramento Locomotive Works,” and which hides a veritable treasure trove for anyone interested in railroads, heavy engineering, or 19th century industrial architecture.
Often known as simply “the Shops,” this historically important complex comes from small beginnings as the Central Pacific Railroad workshops. Within the Shops are the only remaining American railroad structures that were actually standing when the Central Pacific and Union Pacific met in 1869. The Sacramento workshops were later used by the Southern Pacific Railroad for almost 125 years.
The older building, which was built in 1867 on massive redwood piles, is called the Machine Shop, and has undergone different expansions several times to fit the needs of the Shops. It is currently actively used (but not owned) by the State Railroad Museum and houses an enormous range of locomotives (both steam and diesel), carriages, wagons and cabooses, and large machine tools. The newer building, which is nearest to the State Railroad Museum, is known as the Boiler Shop, and was built in 1888. It was used and continues to be used for much of the heavier work in the locomotive production and maintenance process.
Wherever you look in the Shops there are remnants of an important past. The nearby California State Railroad Museum plans to one day buy these workshops, so that restoration work can continue to be done, but also so that more people get to enjoy this little piece of California history.
Know Before You Go
Specially arranged group tours are currently the only way to see the workshops.