A walk around the Escondido History Center.

People in Grape Day Park head toward buildings that are part of the Escondido History Center's Heritage Walk.
People in Grape Day Park head toward buildings that are part of the Escondido History Center’s unique Heritage Walk.

Last weekend I enjoyed a fascinating walk around the Escondido History Center!

Several original and reconstructed buildings operated by the Escondido History Center form the Heritage Walk at the north end of Grape Day Park. Anyone who is curious can freely visit the Bandy Blacksmith & Wheelwright Shop, the Penner Barn, the Victorian House, the City’s First Library, and an excellent museum inside Escondido’s old Santa Fe Depot. A very cool Pullman railroad car parked nearby contains a large model train layout!

While I really enjoyed my visit, I still don’t know much about the history of Escondido, so please visit the Escondido History Center’s informative website here.

Come along with me as we head down the Heritage Walk. We’ll make several interesting discoveries!

(Click the photos of signs and they will enlarge for easier reading.)

The functioning Bandy Blacksmith and Wheelwright Shop beckons.
The functioning Bandy Blacksmith and Wheelwright Shop beckons. (It was closed the day I visited.)
The 1947 Bandy Blacksmith Shop was reconstructed in Grape Day Park in 1993. The building is used today for education and blacksmithing demonstrations.
The 1947 Bandy Blacksmith Shop was reconstructed in Grape Day Park in 1993. The building is used today for education and blacksmith demonstrations.
As we continue down the Heritage Walk, the Penner Barn and nearby windmill come into view.
As we continue down the Heritage Walk, the Penner Barn and nearby windmill come into view.
The Penner Barn at Escondido's Heritage Walk.
The Penner Barn at Escondido’s Heritage Walk.
The 1907 Penner Barn was reconstructed here in 1976 using the original exterior siding and doors. It's now used by the Escondido History Center for special events.
The 1907 Penner Barn was reconstructed here in 1976 using the original exterior siding and doors. It’s now used by the Escondido History Center for special events.
Looking backward through the windmill, we see an old tractor parked in front of the Penner Barn.
Looking backward through the windmill, we see a vintage Caterpillar tractor parked in front of the Penner Barn.
The Victorian House is furnished authentically and open to the public for tours. (I didn't go inside the day I visited.)
The Victorian House is furnished as it might have been a century ago. It is open to the public for tours. (I didn’t go inside the day I visited.)
The Victorian Country House is an 1890 Queen Anne style farmhouse that was moved to this location by the Escondido Historical Society.
The Victorian Country House is an 1890 Queen Anne style farmhouse that was moved to this location by the Escondido Historical Society.
A small tour group assembles on the front porch.
A small tour group assembles on the front porch of the transplanted farmhouse.
This small building was the very first library in Escondido.
This modest building was the very first library in Escondido.
Escondido's First Library opened in 1895. In 1971 the Escondido Historical Society saved it from demolition and moved it to Grape Day Park.
Escondido’s First Library opened in 1895. In 1971 the Escondido Historical Society saved it from demolition and moved it to Grape Day Park.
Escondido's original public library is now headquarters for the Escondido History Center.
Escondido’s original public library is now headquarters for the Escondido History Center.
Sign details the mission and work of the Escondido History Center, formerly the Escondido Historical Society, which was founded in 1956.
Sign details the mission and work of the Escondido History Center, formerly the Escondido Historical Society, which was founded in 1956.
A time capsule buried under the Heritage Walk is to be opened in 2076.
A time capsule buried under the Heritage Walk is to be opened in 2076.
The handsome old Santa Fe Depot was moved to Grape Day Park in 1984. It houses the main museum of the Escondido History Center.
The handsome old Santa Fe Depot was moved to Grape Day Park in 1984. It houses the main museum of the Escondido History Center.
The platform side of the historic train depot, complete with Western Union sign and vintage luggage cart.
The platform side of the historic train depot, complete with Western Union sign and vintage baggage cart.
Exhibits inside the old train depot concern local history, from the Native American Kumeyaay who lived off the land, through Escondido's development as a town.
Exhibits inside the old train depot concern local history, from the Native American Kumeyaay who lived off the land, through Escondido’s development as a town.
A vintage photograph on one wall shows Escondido's Santa Fe Depot.
A black-and-white photograph on one wall shows Escondido’s Santa Fe Depot.
Parked next to the depot's passenger platform is railroad car number 92, built by the Pullman Company in the 1920s.
Parked next to the depot’s passenger platform is railroad car number 92, built by the Pullman Company in the 1920s.
Inside the railroad car is a huge model train layout that kids love!
Inside the railroad car is a huge, detailed model train layout that kids love!
Sacks of mail were transported at one end of the railroad car.
Sacks of mail were transported at one end of the railroad car.
Visitors to the old railroad car hang out and enjoy another facet of Escondido's fascinating history!
Visitors inside the old railroad car relax and enjoy another facet of Escondido’s fascinating history!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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Balboa Park’s fantastic Toy Train Gallery!

One of my favorite attractions in Balboa Park is the absolutely huge, incredible San Diego Model Railroad Museum. And my favorite room in the museum is the fantastic Toy Train Gallery!

Check out these quick photos of the gallery’s super fun toy train layout operated by the San Diego 3-Railers Club!

The colorful layout features O-Scale Lionel-type trains running through a world full of sound and movement. Signs and billboards light up. Cars pull in and out of driveways. People move back and forth. Ghostbusters contend with a rampaging Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

A Choo-Choo Cam lets visitors experience an engineer’s perspective as one model train passes through tunnels, over bridges, and past nostalgic, often humorous scenery. The view is sure to delight children . . . and the child that hopefully remains within each of us!

If you or your family would like to visit the very cool San Diego Model Railroad Museum and their fantastic Toy Train Gallery, you can learn more here.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

You can easily explore Cool San Diego Sights by using the search box on my blog’s sidebar. Or click a tag! There are thousands upon thousands of photos for you to enjoy!

Frank the Trainman mural Train of Wisdom.

A mural titled Train of Wisdom, painted in 1989 by local Chicano artist Mario Torero and students from O’Farrell High School of Performing Arts and Roosevelt Junior High School, decorates the back side of a building located on the northwest corner of Park and El Cajon Boulevard.

Today very few people venture around the building to enjoy the faded 100-foot-long, 40-foot-high mural, which depicts a colorful train driven by young people. Optimistic symbolism fills the mural. On the south end of the building, astute passersby will see the historic, animated neon Frank the Trainman sign at the top of a flight of stairs, which form the mural’s triangular cowcatcher.

This was the original location of the Frank the Trainman model railroad store, which Frank Cox opened in the 1940s. He eventually retired and passed his business on to fellow model train buff Jim Cooley, who sold the property to Mission Federal Credit Union in 1987. To honor the history of Frank the Trainman, the architectural firm of Bradshaw and Bundy altered the building’s exterior into the outline of a locomotive, and the Train of Wisdom was subsequently painted.

(Jim moved the original train store to today’s location just down Park Boulevard and added to it his own unique collectibles museum, which includes some extremely rare antique automobiles. I blogged about that here.)

I walked behind the building yesterday and took the following photographs of the large, nearly 30 year old mural, to help preserve a little bit of San Diego history…

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Rare cars, antiques at a surprising museum!

Rare early automobiles and thousands of collectible antiques can be viewed during a visit to the unique J. A. Cooley Museum in San Diego.
About two dozen antique automobiles and thousands of collectibles can be viewed during a visit to the J. A. Cooley Museum in San Diego.

Last Sunday I visited one of San Diego’s most surprising museums. It’s located in University Heights, at 4233 Park Boulevard. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it. It’s called the J. A. Cooley Museum.

The J. A. Cooley Museum shares its 10,000 square foot space with the Frank the Train Man hobby shop, which was founded by Frank Cox in 1943 and originally opened its doors in another building at the corner of Park and El Cajon Boulevard. Today’s store and museum are operated by Jim Cooley and his wife, Carmen, who’ve been avidly collecting antiques for well over half a century.

Jim, who can usually be found hanging around the museum entrance, is a friendly gentleman with endless stories about his passion for collecting and preserving bits of history. Step inside the museum and it’s immediately apparent that he really loves antique automobiles.

This utterly amazing museum, which doesn’t advertise or have a website of its own, contains a world-class collection of early automobiles, some of which are extremely rare or even one-of-a-kind. The museum also contains a treasure trove of other antiques, including antique phonographs . . . cameras . . . amazing Standard Gauge trains . . . cast iron toys . . . clocks . . . coffee grinders . . . railroad lanterns . . . irons . . . hardware tools . . . even old-fashioned spittoons!

Over the years, Jim has collected all sorts of objects that have interested him, often saving them from being thrown away. For example, he told me around World War II, when spittoons were being discarded in large numbers, he’d see some in a trash truck and retrieve them. Now he has hundreds of them!

The most impressive part of his museum, however, is the jaw-dropping collection of antique automobiles–many well over a century old–which he has patiently acquired over time without an enormous expenditure of money.

Even if many San Diegans are unfamiliar with the J. A. Cooley Museum, serious car aficionados seem to know all about it. People sometimes fly in from around the world to see the collection. The museum’s reputation is such that from time to time a movie studio will borrow a rare old car for filming–for example the 1914 Renaut that was used in Titanic.

I was told by Jim that when General Motors borrowed one his cars for an exposition, GM executives came out to San Diego to look at the museum and were so impressed, they donated their incredible Buick XP 2000, a fully automated 1994 self-driving concept car!

The funny thing is, when I swung by on Sunday and spent a good hour walking about the museum in a state of complete and utter amazement, I saw no other visitors.

I learned Jim wouldn’t mind having more people swing on by. So if you live in San Diego or are planning a trip, look up the Frank the Train Man hobby shop. Step through the front door and the absolutely amazing J. A. Cooley Museum, and possibly Jim himself, await you!

Upon entering the J. A. Cooley Museum, visitors walk past a row of very old cars. On the left is a 1914 Ford Model T.
Upon entering the J. A. Cooley Museum, visitors walk past a row of very old cars. On the left is a 1914 Ford Model T.
1910 Hunt Special, the only car ever manufactured in San Diego. This one car was produced by Mr. William Hunt of National City, ordered by Mr. Arnie Babcock, whose father built the Hotel del Coronado.
1910 Hunt Special, the only car ever manufactured in San Diego. Just one car was produced by Mr. William Hunt of National City, ordered by Mr. Arnie Babcock, whose father built the Hotel del Coronado.
1933 Franklin Olympic, produced one year before Franklin Motor Company ceased operations during the Great Depression.
1933 Franklin Olympic, produced the year before Franklin Motor Company ceased operations during the Great Depression.
1929 Franklin Model 135, produced the first year that Franklin offered a steel frame and hydraulic brakes.
1929 Franklin Model 135, produced the first year that Franklin offered a steel frame and hydraulic brakes.
1913 Cadillac Model 48. This car on display is the most original 1913 Cadillac left in existence today.
1913 Cadillac Model 48. This car on display is the most original 1913 Cadillac left in existence today.
1912 Carter Car. The body of the Carter Car is made of compressed papier-mâché composite panels over wood framing. This car on display is the only Carter Car Sedan left in existence.
1912 Carter Car. The body of the Carter Car is made of compressed papier-mâché composite panels over wood framing. This car on display is the only Carter Car Sedan left in existence.
Buick XP 2000, a fully automated 1994 self-driving concept car that was donated to the J. A. Cooley Museum because the designer was very impressed by the collection when GM executives visited the museum.
Buick XP 2000, a fully automated 1994 self-driving concept car that was donated to the J. A. Cooley Museum because the designer was very impressed by the collection of rare cars when GM executives visited the museum.
A couple of early cameras among a vast collection of antiques and memorabilia filling the J. A. Cooley Museum.
A couple of early cameras among a vast collection of antiques and memorabilia inside the J. A. Cooley Museum.
Behind some cars you'll find a rare WurliTzer Model 153 Band Organ.
Behind some cars you’ll find a rare WurliTzer Model 153 Band Organ.
An antique two-horn Duplex Phonograph.
An antique two-horn Duplex Phonograph.
An antique Edison Concert Phonograph.
An antique Edison Concert Phonograph.
An old photo of the Frank The Train Man storefront over an Edison Home Phonograph.
An old photo of the Frank The Train Man storefront over an Edison Home Phonograph.
One wall and a couple of glass display cases filled with fantastic old collectibles and Americana.
One wall and a couple of glass display cases filled with fantastic old collectibles and Americana.
Shelves and shelves of old cameras.
Shelves and shelves of old cameras.
Shelves filled with old irons.
Shelves filled with old irons.
Antique cast iron horse drawn toy fire engines.
Cast iron horse drawn toy fire engines.
Shelves and shelves of Standard Gauge toy train locomotives and cars from 1900 to the 1940's.
Shelves and shelves of Standard Gauge toy train locomotives and cars from 1900 to the 1940’s.
Lionel toy train accessories including buildings and railroad crossing signals.
Lionel toy train accessories including buildings and railroad crossing signals.
All sorts of old manual typewriters and calculating machines. (I must be an antique, too, because I used a manual typewriter when I was young!)
All sorts of old manual typewriters and calculating machines. (I must be an antique, too, because I used a manual typewriter when I was a young man!)
One corner of the J. A. Cooley Museum contains shelves of spittoons, coffee grinders, old lanterns and more!
One corner of the J. A. Cooley Museum contains shelves of spittoons, coffee grinders, old lanterns and more!
1895 E. A. Gardner Buggy, the only light weight horse drawn carriage that was built in San Diego known to exist today.
1895 E. A. Gardner Buggy, the only lightweight horse-drawn carriage that was built in San Diego known to exist today.
1885 Benz Model 1. The first vehicle in world history that used an internal combustion engine. They were produced from 1885 to 1926, when the company merged with Mercedes.
1885 Benz Model 1. The first vehicle in world history that used an internal combustion engine. They were produced from 1885 to 1926, when the company merged with Mercedes.
1895 Benz Velo. The world's first mass-produced vehicle. 67 were built the first year, 135 the second.
1895 Benz Velo. The world’s first mass-produced vehicle. 67 were built the first year, 135 the second.
1899 Mobile Steamer. Built under Stanley Patents from 1899 to 1903.
1899 Mobile Steamer. Built under Stanley Patents from 1899 to 1903.
A bunch of old-fashioned oil cans and various other objects.
A bunch of old-fashioned oil cans and various other cool objects.
Cuckoo clocks and a historical display of different California license plates!
Cuckoo and mantel clocks, and a historical display of different California license plates!
So many fantastic old objects and collectibles, my eyes almost popped out of my head.
So many fantastic old objects and collectibles, my eyes almost popped out of my head.
I believe these are cast iron coin banks.
I believe these are cast iron coin banks.
All sorts of cool cast iron figures and toys, including an awesome motorcycle!
All sorts of cast iron figures and toys, including an awesome motorcycle!
Two shelves containing railroad lanterns.
Two shelves containing railroad lanterns.
Some classic Coca Cola trays and even more antique collectibles.
Some classic Coca Cola trays and even more antique collectibles.
A bunch of jugs!
A bunch of jugs!
1900 Doctor's Buggy. The narrow, light body allowed for quick travel during medical emergencies. The tires are metal.
1900 Doctor’s Buggy. The narrow, light body allowed for quick travel during medical emergencies. The tires are metal.
1900 Crest. This extremely original car is also very rare, with few left in existence today.
1900 Crest. This extremely original car is also very rare, with few left in existence today.
1905 Cadillac Model F. This particular unrestored car was bought new by famed newspaper founder Ira Copley.
1905 Cadillac Model F. This particular unrestored car was bought new over a century ago by famed newspaper founder Ira Copley.
There's so much cool stuff inside the J. A. Cooley Museum your head might explode!
There’s so much cool stuff inside the J. A. Cooley Museum your head might explode!
1910 Brush Model D, just one of many amazing old automobiles exhibited inside the J. A. Cooley Museum in San Diego.
Front and center is a 1910 Brush Model D, just one of many amazing old automobiles exhibited inside the J. A. Cooley Museum in San Diego!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

You can easily explore Cool San Diego Sights by using the search box on my blog’s sidebar. Or click a tag! There are thousands upon thousands of photos for you to enjoy!

Photos of amazing model train layout in Old Town!

A jaw-dropping night scene in a huge model train layout in Old Town San Diego!
The jaw-dropping night scene of a gigantic model train layout in Old Town San Diego!

During my walk through Old Town San Diego today, I stepped through an ordinary door into a fantastic dream! Before me stretched a positively enormous model train layout!

The Old Town Model Railroad Depot is a truly amazing attraction that anyone would enjoy seeing. The gigantic layout features O-Scale model trains, and as you can see in these photos, just lots of fun buildings, landscapes, moving figures and special effects.

I must say, in my opinion this layout even beats the two awesome O-Scale layouts at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park. Now that really took some doing!

And the two guys I spoke to at the Old Town Model Railroad Depot were really friendly! Next time I walk past, you can be sure I’ll venture inside again!

The Old Town Model Railroad Depot is a cool attraction featuring a gigantic 2500 square feet layout for O-Scale model trains!
The Old Town Model Railroad Depot is a cool attraction featuring a gigantic room full of working model trains!  It’s one of the largest O-Scale layouts in the country!
Fun gifts, artwork and items for model train hobbyists can also be purchased at San Diego's unique Old Town Model Railroad Depot.
Fun gifts, artwork and items for model train hobbyists can also be purchased at San Diego’s unique Old Town Model Railroad Depot.
A locomotive for sale among other fascinating stuff.
A locomotive for sale among other unique and fascinating stuff.
Lots of nostalgic railway artwork decorates the walls.
Lots of nostalgic historical railway posters decorate one wall.
The huge train layout has two halves--one represents daytime, the other night. Kids can stand on platforms to see--and hear--all the action.
The huge train layout has two halves–one represents daytime, the other night. Kids can stand on platforms to see–and hear–all of the exciting action.
Many model buildings populate the O-Scale train layout. It's the same scale used by classic Lionel Trains.
Many model buildings populate the O-Scale train layout. It’s the same scale used by classic Lionel Trains.
Tiny human figures and vehicles can be spotted everywhere one looks on the realistic layout.
Tiny human figures and vehicles can be spotted everywhere one looks on the realistic layout.
I really enjoyed the night side of the layout. It seemed even more realistic and dynamic. Special lighting effects include fireworks bursting over a stadium and lightning stabbing down from clouds!
I really enjoyed the night side of the layout. It seemed even more realistic and dynamic. Special lighting effects include fireworks bursting over a stadium and lightning stabbing down from clouds!
A tiny mechanic works in a tiny garage on a tiny truck.
A tiny mechanic works in a tiny garage at night on a tiny truck.
A detailed scene recreates firemen fighting a fire at night.
A detailed scene recreates firemen fighting a fire at night. I see miniature police, an ambulance, reporters and a small crowd of evacuated people!
Your kids will go crazy. You have to see it to believe it. And it's free! But leave a donation!
Your kids will go crazy. You have to see it to believe it. And it’s free! But leave a donation!

UPDATE!

I stepped into the Old Town Model Railroad Depot a second time! And I loved it even more than my first visit!

I met Gary Hickok, the creator of this stupendous layout, and learned he has been collecting the various pieces you see for 15 years. There are hundreds of tiny unique human figures, and they all seem to tell a story. Their unique poses are all part of a huge, bustling scene. The stories are often humorous!

Here are some more random photos that came out okay. These were all taken on the “day side” of the O-Scale model train layout. I hope you enjoy them!

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I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Photos of National City Depot museum and streetcars!

There's more than refreshments and snacks at the National City Depot. There's a huge, cool collection of local railroad and trolley history!
There’s more than refreshments and snacks at the National City Depot. There’s a huge, cool collection of local railroad and trolley history!

If you’re a train or streetcar lover, prepare to go nuts! The friendly guys at the National City Depot, which is home to the Trolley and Railroad Museum operated by the San Diego Electric Railway Association, allowed me to take loads of photographs a couple weekends ago! The place is so crammed with cool stuff, I hardly know where to start!

(Before I get started, however, I learned the National City Depot is in desperate need of volunteer docents and cashiers. So if you live around San Diego and have some free time, please consider this opportunity. Railroading enthusiasts would be in heaven. If you’d like, you might actually roll up your sleeves and help work to revitalize several vintage streetcars. You can have a great time preserving and enlivening our local history of trolleys by explaining exhibits and sharing knowledge with curious visitors, tourists and school students. SDERA’s stated mission is to restore and preserve the history of electric railways and trolleys in the San Diego region. Click here for more info.)

As you can see from the first photo, the depot has a number of old railroad cars and streetcars sitting outside on either side of it. The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, MTS, has provided the private association with three old Vienna streetcars and one Presidents Conference Committee (PCC) streetcar. The latter is undergoing restoration, and will eventually be used as a cool tourist attraction, running over the Coronado Belt Line of the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railroad!

You might recognize the name San Diego Electric Railway. It was the mass transit system built by locally famous “sugar heir” and entrepreneur John D. Spreckels. His network of railroads was established in 1892, and active streetcars served a large area of the city for many decades. The San Diego Electric Railway Association proudly displays some examples of the rolling stock that were utilized in those glory years of electric streetcars.

The National City Depot has its own fascinating history. It was built in 1882 by the Santa Fe Railroad, and became the first Pacific Coast terminus station of their transcontinental line. Today, it’s the last representative of the original stations built on the West Coast by the five different transcontinental railroads. After various changes in its operations over the decades, the depot was abandoned in the 1960s and suffered severe neglect. Before finally reopening as a museum, it was also used as a unique building for a couple of restaurants. It’s now owned by the city of National City.

I learned so much during my visit, my brain is still whirling. If I’ve captioned the photos incorrectly, or have made some sort of factual error, please leave a comment!

Here come the photos, just a taste of what you might see should you swing on by.  Enjoy!

The National City Depot was built in 1882. It was the western terminus of the Santa Fe Railroad's transcontinental line.
The National City Depot was built in 1882. It was the first Pacific Coast terminus station of the Santa Fe Railroad’s transcontinental line.
Plaque in front of National City Depot, the West Coast station of Santa Fe's transcontinental railroad. California Registered Historical Landmark No. 1023.
Plaque in front of National City Depot, the first Pacific Coast terminus station of Santa Fe’s transcontinental railroad. California Registered Historical Landmark No. 1023.
Sign concerns Santa Fe Rail Depot. It's the only original transcontinental railroad terminus still standing.
Sign describes Santa Fe Rail Depot in National City. It’s the only original transcontinental railroad terminus still standing.
Inside the small depot are display cases full of model trains and streetcars, plus artifacts and memorabilia. The walls are covered with old photos and historical information.
Inside the small depot are display cases full of model trains and streetcars, plus artifacts and memorabilia. The walls are covered with old photos and historical information.
The famous old train station sits alongside BNSF tracks which are still active. The National City Depot played in instrumental role in American railroad history.
The famous old train station sits alongside BNSF tracks which are still active. The National City Depot played in instrumental role in American railroad history.
There's so much cool stuff crammed inside the museum, a railfan could spend hours closely examining all of it!
There’s so much cool stuff crammed inside the museum, a railfan could spend hours closely examining all of it!
A magazine article on display for train buffs and history enthusiasts to check out. Buses replace the old network of trolleys in 1949.
A magazine article on display for train buffs and history enthusiasts to check out. Buses finally replaced the old network of San Diego trolleys in 1949.
One of many old photos in the museum depicting San Diego's very rich electric streetcar history.
One of many old photos in the museum depicting San Diego’s very rich electric streetcar history.
A collection of old lanterns. Everything imaginable concerning San Diego railroads and trolleys can be found inside the National City Depot.
A collection of old lanterns. Everything imaginable concerning San Diego railroads and trolleys can be found inside the National City Depot.
Faded writing on the brick fireplace recalls when the eventually abandoned depot was used as a restaurant. Black panels on the walls cover graffiti.
Faded writing on the brick fireplace recalls when the eventually abandoned depot was used as a restaurant. Black panels on the walls cover graffiti.
One section of a wall has lots of photos of vintage streetcars and trolleys.
One section of a wall has lots of photos of vintage streetcars and trolleys.
A second room inside the National City Depot contains a huge model train layout! The exhibit is run when the depot is open Thursdays to Sundays from 9am to 5pm. It appears that SDERA members have a lot of fun!
A second room inside the National City Depot contains a huge model train layout! The exhibit is run when the depot is open Thursdays to Sundays from 9am to 5pm. It appears that SDERA members have a lot of fun!
The best photo I could get of a big antique Raymond and Wilshire safe in the historic transcontinental depot. I had to squeeze up against the model train layout.
The best photo I could get of a big antique Raymond and Wilshire safe in the historic transcontinental depot. I had to squeeze up against the model train layout.
Now we're outside beside the depot at a picnic bench! I liked these two planters in the shape of steam locomotives!
Now we’re outside beside the depot at a picnic bench! I like these two planters in the shape of steam locomotives!
Two of National City Depot's three old Austrian streetcars. These were going to be used by MTS for the San Diego Trolley in the Gaslamp Quarter, but couldn't meet ADA standards, as I understand it.
Two of National City Depot’s three old Austrian streetcars. These were going to be used by MTS for the San Diego Trolley in the Gaslamp Quarter, but couldn’t meet ADA standards, as I understand it.
Sign inside one Vienna street car details the history. They were originally built at the Simmering Machine and Railcar Works, Simmering, Austria.
Sign inside one Vienna street car details the history. They were originally built at the Simmering Machine and Railcar Works, Simmering, Austria.
Now we're stepping into one of the old Austrian streetcars!
Now we’re stepping like a passenger into one of the old Austrian streetcars!
The controls used by the electric streetcar operator. Notice the chair which folds under the dash.
The controls used by this electric streetcar’s operator. Notice a seat that folds under the dashboard.
Looking back where passengers would sit. There didn't seem to be much capacity in the small cars.
Looking back where passengers would sit. There didn’t seem to be much capacity in the small cars.
Now we're checking out Birney Car 336, out in the open lot beside the National City Depot. This is one type of streetcar that transported people in San Diego decades ago.
Now we’re checking out Birney Car 336, out in the open lot beside the National City Depot. This is one type of streetcar that transported people in San Diego decades ago.
Birney Car 336 was built by the St. Louis Car Company in 1917, and first served in Bellingham, WA. It later was used for dining inside the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Diego, from 1971 to 2004!
Birney Car 336 was built by the St. Louis Car Company in 1917, and first served in Bellingham, WA. It later was used for dining inside the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Diego, from 1971 to 2004!
Inside the old Birney Car. I'm hungry for some spaghetti! Where are the chairs?
Inside the old Birney Car. I’m hungry for some spaghetti! Where are the chairs?
Cool vintage advertisements along the car's ceiling include this one for Burma-Shave.
Cool vintage advertisements along the car’s ceiling include this one for Burma-Shave.
A big, heavy tamping machine used for maintaining railroad tracks and placing them more firmly onto packed ballast.
A big, heavy tamping machine used for maintaining railroad tracks and placing them more firmly onto packed ballast.
A second ballast tamper outside the National City Depot. I always wondered what these unusual machines that you see on train tracks were for.
A second ballast tamper outside the National City Depot. I always wondered what these unusual machines that you see on train tracks are for.
Part of the machinery that pushes down on the steel rails and ties. This makes sure train tracks are solidly in place.
Part of the machinery that pushes down on the steel rails and ties. This makes sure train tracks are solidly in place and level.
Gazing back north past various rail exhibits outside the National City Depot.
Gazing back north past various rail exhibits outside the National City Depot. Isn’t this fun?
Now we'll check out PCC Car 539, which was donated to SDERA by the Metropolitan Transit System.
Now we’ll check out PCC Car 539, which was donated to SDERA by the Metropolitan Transit System.
PCC Car 539 was built in 1946 by the St. Louis Car Company. It served as a streetcar in St. Louis until 1956. Restoration is underway. One day it might run nearby as a tourist attraction.
PCC Car 539 was built in 1946 by the St. Louis Car Company. It served as a streetcar in St. Louis until 1956. Restoration is underway. One day it might run nearby as a tourist attraction.
Inside the fabulous PCC car. The San Diego Trolley has two completely restored cars of this type, now running on downtown's Silver Line.
Inside the fabulous PCC car. The San Diego Trolley now has two completely restored cars of this type, running in a downtown loop called the Silver Line.
I believe this is a Fairmont Speeder Car. Tiny crew cars were used to transport a few individual workers up and down tracks. I'd love to ride one!
I believe this is a Fairmont Speeder Car. Tiny crew cars were used to transport a few individual workers up and down tracks. I’d love to ride one!
Oh, man! I bet you'd love to sit in one of these seats and ride the rails! Just turn the throttle to go!
Oh, man! I bet you’d love to sit in one of these seats and ride the rails! Just turn the throttle to go!
Seriously? This one is basically a bicycle for train tracks! Except it has four wheels! And a bike chain, of course!
Seriously? This one is basically a bicycle for train tracks! Except it has four wheels! And a bike chain, of course!
This luggage cart near the entrance to the National City Depot was donated by the Maritime Museum of San Diego--it evidently was aboard the steamboat Berkeley at one time.
This luggage cart near the entrance to the National City Depot was donated by the Maritime Museum of San Diego–it evidently was aboard the steam ferry Berkeley at one time.
One of several cool vintage handcars. Just like you see in those old Western movies.
One of several cool vintage handcars. Just like you see in those old Western movies.
This unusual three-wheeled handcar reminds me of a canoe outrigger!
This unusual three-wheeled handcar reminds me of a canoe outrigger!
San Diego Electric Railway Association's fun Herbie is a Brill streetcar replica. A parade and car show's popular Streetcar on Wheels!
San Diego Electric Railway Association’s fun Herbie is a Brill streetcar replica. A parade and car show’s popular Streetcar on Wheels!
An antique open air streetcar at the National City Depot. This a grip car, like the cable cars in San Francisco. Few people realize that San Diego had a cable car line that briefly ran from the Gaslamp to University Heights in the early 1890s!
An antique open air streetcar at the National City Depot. This a grip car, like the cable cars in San Francisco. Few people realize that San Diego had a cable car line that briefly ran from the Gaslamp to University Heights in the early 1890s!
Elegant number 54 was operated by the San Diego Electric Railway Company according to its markings. The yellow paint is peeling.
Elegant number 54 is a unique composite, built using two different San Diego Cable Railway cars. I see panes of stained glass. The yellow paint is peeling.
The third Vienna streetcar in the National City Depot's collection, number 6888, is yellow.
The third Vienna streetcar in the National City Depot’s collection, number 6888, is yellow.
There's a lot of very cool stuff to see at the National City Depot, in San Diego's South Bay!
There’s a ton of very cool stuff to see at the National City Depot, in San Diego’s South Bay!

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People ride cool “live steam” trains in San Diego!

A "live steam" enthusiast watches folks ride a small train through Rohr Park, in San Diego's South Bay.
A “live steam” enthusiast watches families ride a small train through Rohr Park, in San Diego’s South Bay.

This is beyond cool!

The Chula Vista Live Steamers is a club in San Diego’s South Bay. Members build and operate their own small “live steam” trains that people can actually ride!

These friendly hobbyists utilize an elaborate network of miniature train tracks in a public park; the layout is called the Sweetwater and Rohr Park Railroad. During public run days, which take place in Bonita’s grassy Rohr Park one Saturday and Sunday of each month, anyone can watch or ride the small trains! Or if you’re inclined, join and become a member! If you have kids, visit their website, and you can schedule birthday parties!

Today I spotted one steam and one diesel locomotive (which is actually powered by gasoline). It’s winter, so things are bit slow. On Labor Day, I was told, a gigantic railroading extravaganza takes places, with many different trains running simultaneously! If you’re a kid (or a kid at heart), I can only imagine how utterly fantastic it would be!

Whether you’re a railfan, a model train enthusiast, a maker, a dreamer, or just like to see something really unique and fun, head down to join in the action and you’ll have a great time!

Should you walk down this path through Rohr Park in Bonita, you'll eventually come upon something really cool and amazing.
Should you walk down this path through Rohr Park in Bonita, you’ll eventually come upon something really cool and amazing.
Run days for The Chula Vista Live Steamers are usually the 2nd Saturday and Sunday of each month. On Labor Day there's a huge event with many trains operating.
Run days for The Chula Vista Live Steamers are usually the 2nd Saturday and Sunday of each month. On Labor Day there’s a huge event with many trains operating.
Adults love riding the trains just as much as kids. Hobbyists build and maintain the rail cars and working locomotives, and haul them to the park for some fun.
Adults love riding the trains just as much as kids. Hobbyists build and maintain the rail cars and working locomotives, and haul them to the park for some fun.
Thrilled kids ride behind a small diesel locomotive, which is actually powered by gasoline. The tracks looping through the park provide a fun, scenic ride.
Thrilled kids ride behind a small “diesel locomotive”, which is actually powered by gasoline. The tracks looping through the park provide a fun, scenic ride.
Here comes the same train. The Bonita Golf Course is in the distance, beyond the tracks.
Here comes the same train. The Bonita Golf Course is in the distance, beyond the tracks.
This working steam locomotive is a very cool sight. But it's so small that folks at a nearby picnic table seem to be giants.
This working steam locomotive is a very cool sight. But it’s so small that folks at a nearby picnic table seem to be giants.
This tiny train is part of the National City and Otay Railway!
This tiny train is part of the National City and Otay Railway!
A close-up photo of the live steam locomotive. In every detail, it seems a perfect reproduction of a full-size engine.
A close-up photo of the live steam locomotive. In every detail, it seems a perfect reproduction of a full-size engine.
Dedicated train hobbyists have gathered on the surprisingly large rail yard to watch the steam locomotive.
Dedicated train hobbyists have gathered on the surprisingly large rail yard to enjoy the steam locomotive.
This caboose in the rail yard seems to be occupied by the Creature from the Black Lagoon!
This caboose in the rail yard seems to be occupied by the Creature from the Black Lagoon!
A pair of tracks head for a good quarter mile along the edge of the Bonita Golf Course. You can see railroad crossings and a few small bridges!
A pair of tracks head for a good quarter mile along the edge of the Bonita Golf Course. You can see railroad crossings and a few small bridges!
Occasionally, trains will run down the length of the golf course to another loop.
Occasionally, trains will run down the side of the golf course to another loop.
An actual working railway turntable! This area is where steam locomotives are fired up and build up steam pressure before running. The turntable is very busy on Labor Day!
An actual working railway turntable! This area is where steam locomotives build up steam pressure before running. The turntable is very busy on Labor Day!
Checking out a super cool locomotive operated by a member of the Chula Vista Live Steamers!
Checking out a super cool locomotive operated by a member of the Chula Vista Live Steamers!

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