Railroads were the United States’ key technology in the nineteenth century, able to move food, energy, and materials within our huge land mass. Once San Luis Obispo was no longer in the business of saving souls, it needed a way to get goods in and out, and that need was met by the Pacific Coast Railway (to the port at Avila in 1876) and Southern Pacific Railroad (to the Bay Area in 1894 and Los Angeles in 1900). Till 1957, when the Southern Pacific retired steam trains, the railroad was the city’s largest employer.

Our tour includes admission to the SLO Railroad Museum and a visit to SLO’s last nineteenth century railroad depot, now tucked away in a garden, where William McKinley hurriedly departed from the town’s first presidential visit after being lowered from a kitchen roof by the Secret Service. We’ll walk among the buildings made by and for the railroad men, including the hotel where Jack Kerouac lived while working as a brakeman in 1953, after writing On the Road but before its publication. We’ll recreate the lives of passengers like Julia Morgan, who showed up at 2 a.m. every other week to work on Hearst Castle, waiting for her taxi driver till dawn.