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They'll be steaming in Sacramento; the greatest gathering of steam engines in 50 years.

They'll be steaming in Sacramento Whistles tooting, the greatest gathering of steam engines in America since the 1940s assembles in Sacramento this month for Railfair '91. The event marks the 10th anniversary of the California State Railroad Museum. May 3 through 12, Railfair presents more than 30 visiting locomotives and cars, model trains, exhibits, and a musical revue performed on and around the old trains.

The event takes over the railroad museum and 15 acres in adjacent Old Sacramento, making for lots of walking. One strategy: visit the museum, take a lunch break in Old Sacramento (buy picnic fixings at a deli, or call 916/449-6711 or 442-7644 for restaurant listings), then tour the locomotives outside.

From Pullmans to Post Office cars

Start your museum visit with the fine 20-minute orientation film. Once inside the shed and roundhouse, you'll see 10 locomotives and 11 cars dating from 1862 to 1954. Hit the most popular stops before crowds do: the 1929 Pullman sleeper you climb aboard (its lights and rocking motion simulate speeding through the night) and the 1950 Great Northern Post Office car (with mailman aboard). The second floor will be filled with model train layouts and exhibits.

You may wish to enroll your child in free docent-led Junior Engineer classes during Railfair at the museum (space is limited).

For an entertaining rest, head outside to the old railroad freight depot to watch a 1-hour musical revue given each day at 11, 3, and 7 (ticket details above right). Nearby are steam locomotives from Canada, England, and across the U.S. Don't miss the 1926 replica of the Tom Thumb "tea kettle" (first American-built locomotive); the Union Pacific Challenger, the world's largest operating steam locomotive; and, from England, Locomotion, a replica of an 1829 engine, a classic from steam power's early days.

Excursion rides may be offered during the fair; if so, they'll start 1/2 mile south, at Front and R streets. For details, and information on when and where to watch locomotives arrive, call 323-3153.

Ticketing, parking savvy

To avoid lines at the door, buy tickets at BASS outlets or at the Sacramento Community Convention Center box office (442-7827). Advance tickets cost $8 ($4 for ages 5 through 12). The musical revue is $6 ($4 for children). A combination Railfair-and-revue ticket is $12.50 ($7 for children). At the door, prices rise $2.

The museum is at Second and I streets; Hours during Railfair are 9 to 9.

When to go. Crowds should be lightest midweek. But early birds (before 9 A.M.) any day can watch owners priming and washing engines and polishing the brass; or walk to the fueling station (by Tower Bridge) to watch the locomotives tank up.

Parking. In Old Town, lots are at Front Street and Capitol Mall, at Second and J streets, and at Second and I streets. Or try a lot under the K Street Mall between Fifth and Seventh streets. All charge a flat $5 fee for Railfair.

Public transit. Take Sacramento's light rail to the stop at Eighth and K streets and walk four blocks west to the museum; for light rail or bus information, call 321-2877. Or take Amtrak to Sacramento (from the Bay Area, the schedule works best for an overnight trip); for times and fares, call (800) 872-7245.
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Date:May 1, 1991
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