The Santa Clara Caltrain Depot/Station & Edward Peterman Museum of Railroad History, 1005 Railroad Ave., is where western railroading’s past meets the present. Outside the depot on November 7 and 8, commuter trains bound south to San Jose and north to San Francisco sped by. Inside, members of the South Bay Historical Railroad Society (SBHRS) shared the history of bygone railroading days.
Built in late 1863 (when Lincoln was president), the operating depot was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 (when Ronald Reagan was president). Attached to the depot, the museum building–once the agricultural freight house–showcases historic railroad artifacts and two operational, HO – and the smaller N-scale model train layout displays.
“There’s lots of details,” observes seven-year-old Annabelle Granger, viewing the model trains with her dad. “I like trains that go fast. I have wood trains at home. You can move them fast or slow.”
A recent addition to the ever-evolving layouts, a replica of Mission Santa Clara includes such details as a miniature priest and nun, tiny roses climbing a garden wall and oranges growing on trees. Miniature recreations of Cahill Train Station (now Diridon Station) in San Jose and Alhambra Water in Martinez were also recently designed and handcrafted by SBHRS members.
“This is great,” says Annabelle’s dad, Santa Clara resident Thierry Granger. “I like the western California presentation. It reminds me of when I was young. I did some model trains with my father [in France], and I wanted to share that with my daughter.”
Open house activities included a Company Store swap meet of model train items and viewing of the original, restored Harriman-style 1926 Southern Pacific Switch Tower–the only one of its style in the country still in its original location.
Also, parked alongside the depot, an Oregon-Washington Railroad & Navigation business car, once used by railroad officials on company business, was open for viewing. When completely restored, the 1912 Pullman railcar will be rented out for dinners to raise funds to support the volunteer-run museum. SBHRS member Chuck Sted said that they could use additional volunteers with restoration skills, including wood restoration and electrical skills.
The SBHRS–with about 100 members–has been allowed to use the depot since 1985. In return, the club has restored and maintained it, and the open house was a fund-raiser to help cover those expenses.
“Our mission is to preserve railroad history–for the Santa Clara Valley and western railroads, in particular,” says SBHRS CEO Robert Marshall. “We need to keep people interested and show them the role railroads played–and continue to play–in the development of Silicon Valley.”
The SBHRS museum library–once the baggage room–has more than 4,500 catalogued items. Its collection is second in size only to the state railroad library in Sacramento, according to what librarian Michael Wagner has been told.
Admission is free to the railroad station museum and library, and it’s open year-round Tuesdays, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For information, visit www.sbhrs.org.