By DENNIS WYATT
OAKDALE —The appeal of riding the Sierra Railroad hits you as you scan the wide open countryside absent of telephone poles and any signs of civilization save an occasional farm house as you rumble along east of Oakdale.
The click-clack of the wheels passing over the rails provides a soothing background serenade as you ponder what the valley looked like centuries ago unencumbered by man.
There is something special about just taking it easy and killing time with good conversation and good scenery at a leisurely pace that makes the tab seem like a downright bargain.
The Sierra Railroad just isn't an entertainment experience. It is an excursion into a slower paced world making it a mini-vacation of sorts.
Sierra Railroad trains pull out of the heart of Oakdale near where Highway 120 and Highway 108 meet primarily on Saturdays and Sundays.
The next eight weeks includes:
*High Noon Express, Sunday, March 26 at noon; Saturday, April 1, at 10 a.m.; Saturday, April 22, at noon; and Sunday. April 30, at noon. Executive class ($85) for 18 and over includes assigned seating in executive class, souvenir glass, sparkling wine or soda and light appetizer. Adult coach class is $45, child coach class 12 and under is $35, infant class for children 0 to 1 is $10.
*Old Vine Express, Saturday, March 25, 5:30 p.m. featuring the Patty Castillo Davis Band. Coach class is $70 and includes eight tastes and souvenir glass. Coach class designated driver (non-alcohol ticket) is $45
*Easter egg express, Saturday, April 1, at 2 p.m.; Sunday, April 2, at 10 a.m.; Saturday, April 8, at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.; Saturday, April 8 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.; Sunday, April 9, at 11 a.m.; Saturday, April 15, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Executive class $82 (13 and older only) and includes souvenir glass of sparkling wine or soda and light appetizer. Adult coach class $42, child coach class $32 (12 and under and includes Easter egg hunt; and infant class $10, ages 0 to 1.
*Beer train, Saturday, April 1, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, April 15, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, May 6, at 2 p.m., Coach class is $65 and includes six tastes and souvenir glass. Coach class designated driver (non-alcohol ticket) is $45
*Mystery theatre dinner train, Saturday, May 6, at 7 p.m. (“When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”: It’s 1944 and the Country is fighting Word War II. The Invasion of Normandy is over, and several troops are being sent home on the USO Train to visit their families. As is custom for the USO, “Camp Show Entertainers” are on board to build the spirit of the weary soldiers as they travel the countryside. Also on board are specially invited guests to join in the party. But the entertainment is about to get out of hand with a mysterious murder). Adult (event for those 13 and older only) $105 includes interactive theatre show, three course meal, as well as complimentary water and soda.
*Great train robbery, Saturday, May 6, at 11 a.m. Executive class ($100) 18 and older, Wild West Show, BBQ lunch, souvenir glass or sparkling wine or soda and light appetizer. Adult coach $70 Wild West Show and BBQ lunch. Child coach $60 (12 and under) Wild West Show and BBQ. Infant coach $10 (ages 0 to 1) train ride.
Trains are scheduled so far through the end of September for booking. Upcoming special trains include Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day
If are catching the lunch train you might want to check to see if the Cowboy Museum located just a short stroll away from the station is open that day and stop in to take in everything cowboy.
The route itself is simple. You are taken out to a point in the middle of a scenic nowhere where the train stops.
After reaching the stopping point, the engine reverses direction and takes you back to Oakdale.
Those riding in the next few weeks will still see a bit of green in the rolling hills before the landscape starts turning into hues of gold.
If you have ridden Amtrak don't expect the same experience. The slowed Sierra Railroad excursion is at a pace more conducive to relaxation. The entire trip takes right around four hours.
The Sierra Railroad was built in 1897 to connect the Central Valley with the Gold Country. Parts of its upper track system are still a working railroad moving freight.
It is the third oldest railroad in continuous operation in North America.
The current dinner train was launched in 1999. The Sierra Railroad, though, was the birthplace of the first dinner train in North America back in the 1970s.
You might get a feeling when gazing out the windows as you roll along that you've been there before. That is because no less than 300 motion pictures from "High Noon" to "Back to the Future" filmed segments along the tracks. There also has been a long list of TV series using the Sierra Railroad for filming including Petticoat Junction, Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza, The Big Valley, and The Wild, Wild West.