California State Railroad Museum

How many times do you visit an area, and think, “I really want to go there”, but then you don’t go.  That was me and the Railroad Museum.  Yesterday the Tulare County Teaching American History Grant Institute scheduled the trip, and I finally got my wish.

For a museum-aholic like me, it is really hard for a museum to reach the status of favorite, but this one may come very close.  How fortunate for us today that the  museum did not get built in San Francisco by the organization that collected these beautiful trains, the Railroad and Locomotive Historical Society.

The trains here are all huge and most of all immaculate.   The guides are  knowledgeable, and congenial.  Like Colonial Williamsburg where you have townspeople milling around town able to answer random questions from tourists, there are “railroad employees” interspersed among the visitors who wave, and answer questions as well.

They might be playing my brother’s favorite childhood song,  “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” on their harmonica.

Whatever they are doing looks like fun even when they aren’t conducting tours.  All aboard!

The railroad changed the West in so many ways.  When the Gold Rush started in 1849, it took 6 months at best to get from St. Louis to the gold fields near Sacramento, and even longer when someone came from the East Coast.  After the trains were completed, it took 8 days, and it wasn’t nearly so dangerous.

In 1869 when the transcontinental railroad was completed,  engines looked like this, just like the little locomotive in one of my first children’s books, The Little Engine that Could.  It was first published in 1906, then rewritten several times until the version that I knew that appeared in 1954.  The third locomotive in operation on the Transcontinental Railroad’s Southern Pacific line,  the Huntington#1, was built in Patterson, NJ in 1863.  Trains have a shelf life of 30 to 40 years, so by 1915 the Huntington started its work as a show engine, traveling from show to show until finally coming home to the museum in 1980, and holds the honor of being the oldest engine on board.

You will have to forgive me for losing my focus here.  The trains were absolutely dazzling, but the sight of all these orange t-shirted K-2nd graders listening to the telephone (not cell phone-shaped) explanations distracted me from telling the train story.  I forgot to even ask the name of the train.  I hope you all can forgive me for that one.

Some of them took the information so seriously.

The very first locomotive in use by the Transcontinental Railroad was the Leland Stanford, partially pictured here.  In 1862 a freshman Congressman named Aaron Smith, reminded the Union legislators that much of the money to fund the Civil War came from California.  Using scare tactics he intimated that without better transcontinental transportation the South might very well win the war instead of the North.  Acting on that  a threat, Congress changed its protocol of  from its normal Civil War discourse and passed bills to begin work building the Transcontinental Railroad.  Seven years later the feat was accomplished.  Of course the Civil War was officially over by then, and the Congressman had served his constituents well.

Crossing the mountains was no small accomplishment, and required a special engine.  This giant tunnel engine was one of my favorite stories.  Notice the vents across the top.  A steam engine built in the 1950s it was completely rebuilt in the shop in the 1970s.  It stayed in operation until the early 2000s.

Engines like this serviceable display which stayed in service so long forced the locomotive builders to upgrade their models so that the railroad companies would buy new engines instead of repairing the old ones.  New engines now operate each wheel individually which allows them to run trains faster and safer now that they were running 40 years ago.

Tomorrow I will post the rest of the story taking you to the materials inside the trains, and the growth of what many little boys of the 50s found under the Christmas tree or received at some point in their lives – the toy trains.

Pardon the poor pictures.

Free Wheeling

When you think about American history, probably the first thought that comes to mind is not the bicycle.  However, in Davis, CA, bicycles are VERY important, so this is the perfect place for the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame.  It is in downtown Davis, at 303 B Street.  Our host, Bob Bowen, was the perfect Bicycles R Us spokesperson!

I remember my first bike, well actually it was my mom’s bike, but my dad painted it powder-blue so I would think it was new.  It weighed more than I did, and the rust and oil from the chain gave my leg the tattoo-look before tattoos were popular.

No, this wasn’t the bike, but in the 1890s my great-grandfather rode one like this one when he was a kid.   Big-wheelers were fairly dangerous, and no helmets were required.  (or even imagined).  The biggest problem was that there were no brakes!!! AND you were 8 feet off the ground, and when you did stop you took a “header” landing head-first in front of the bike.

Bicycle hero, Major Taylor from my home state of INDIANA, caught my attention.  He was the highest paid athlete in the world for a time – a bicycle racer.  Of course that was before pro-football.  Even before pro-baseball.  But in 1899 Major Taylor was the man.

On the second floor of the Bicycle Hall of Fame were more heroic stories, many of them female including Rebecca Twigg, whom I liked for her name.  Born in Seattle, Washington – another of my favorite places, in 1963, she was an Olympic medalist, world and U.S championship race track cyclist.

Next, we went into the basement.  Here the Hall of Fame houses the collection of bikes from across the ages. Transportation before bicycles was limited to walking and animal drawn vehicles.  Finally, here was a vehicle that people could power themselves.  The bicycle pictured below, called a running machine, started out without chains, brakes or other niceties that we consider essential today.  Running machines, powered Fred Flintstone style, by running them,  were used, mostly to go downhill, from 1817 up to the start of the Civil War.

Thank goodness women got involved in bicycling.  Before women started riding bicycles roads were dirt, or at best, cobblestones.  After women took the wheels, it wasn’t long until paved roads started appearing.  No wonder they called the first bicycles “bone shakers”.  Of course, the metal or wooden tires might have had something to do with that as well.

This is one of my favorite pictures.  At some point bicycling became a family event.  This bicycle seats 6.  I remember riding a bicycle for two, and when the person in front came to a large fallen tree in the path, she wanted to go over it.  I didn’t think that was such a good idea, but she was persistent.  OK, stubborn.  I think I tend to be somewhat passive aggressive.  So when she continued to power forward, I bailed.  I don’t think I made a very good back seat driver, so I hate to think of being in the back seat of this machine.  …Yes, she crashed, and I felt badly, but still convinced that I did the right thing, and she should have stopped.

All in all we had a great time on Bob Bowen’s Bicycle Tour.  I love alliteration.  I looked for a “B” word to substitute for the word tour, and after a few thesaurian clicks on synonyms I found the word “bender” meaning “a period of time escaping life’s harsh realities”.   Unfortunately it means a few other things as well, so we’ll stay with tour.

Some of us had more fun than others.

Some of us crashed.

Some of us  took the sport very seriously!  Win at all costs!

We all had a great time, and recommend this as a fun place to visit.  Thanks again to our hosts.


This is the place to go, the Davis Commons, a little mall that used to have a Borders.   Now you can find lots of little eating places with plenty of tables outside to enjoy the scenery – which is mostly college kids.

It’s a short walk under the bridge on the bike path from the University Park Inn and Suites hotel in Davis.  I’m not sure if it is a safe place for big-footed angels, but it was great for us.

Three of us met at a sushi restaurant called Mikuni’s that was recommended by one of our instructors at the Teaching American History Institute.  Usually fairly expensive, the best time to go is during happy hour.

Just because I went there, doesn’t mean that I had sushi.  Oh no.  They had tempura.  Broccoli, sweet potatoes, onion.  I had to give the mushroom away.  Anyone who knows me know that is a pet peeve of mine.  Mushrooms always sneak onto the menu masquerading as a vegetable when they are obviously a fungi.  I hate fake food.  If it is a fungi, call it a fungi!

Tofu faking it as a juicy piece of ham in a ham and cheese sandwich is just wrong.  If you are going to have tofu, call it tofu.  It’s delicious when it’s not pretending to be something else.  My friends thought that the sushi was great.

The green things that look like beans are beans.  Their official title is edamame, but don’t try to eat the salty pod.  I know from experience that it won’t hurt you, but it’s just too much work. In front next to the red wine is a plate loaded with Puff Daddies,crab mix-stuffed shrimp with creamy house sauce, masago and onion.  To the left of that I’m going to have to guess.  I have the menu open for reference, but I’m still guessing that it is a spicy salmon hand roll, with the hand being made of seaweed.  Anyone that knows anything about sushi will probably be able to identify the next plate towards the back.  But I’m not one of those people, so I’m going out on a limb here and calling it California 2 Roll with crab mix, avocado and sesame seed.  Finally the top right- hand dish is the special on Monday night – Nigiri Tuna.

Debbie, Jennie and I enjoyed this so much on Monday night, that we brought more friends back with us the next night.  Believe it or not someone else there didn’t like sushi.  She tried it.  I couldn’t be outdone by another sushi hater – I tried a Philadelphia Roll – SMOKED salmon, cream cheese, avocado, and masago.  It was delicious.


I was going to tell you about masago, but when I tried to Google it last night, the entire internet system went out hotel-wide, and I didn’t feel a bit responsible.  BUT, I just Googled masa_o right now – TWICE, and the webpage wouldn’t display which is just what happened last night.  In addition I lost my last picture, so I left a space blank in honor of my friends who got erased.  So I think that m_sago must be something that triggers an international crisis, so you’re on your own to learn about m__ago.  I’m almost afraid to even write the word when I see what happened to the angel in the Davis Commons.  I hope it wasn’t the ma____0.

Just Finish It

Such the Like motivated her with her blog post about what books she is reading.  I, too, love to read, at least I think I do.  If it’s not fiction I love to start reading.

That’s why I read so little fiction.  I can’t stop reading fiction until the end of the book – even if I keep my scratchy eyes open until 2:00 a.m.  Unfortunately, there is so much else on my list to read, so I feel guilty reading heart-stopping, bone-chilling fiction.  I did take time to read all of Cristian’s book, Remember,  because it was short, and I wanted to see what kind of writer he is since he is writing about how to write.

I like reading on Kindle because it keeps track of what you are reading, and how much of you read.  Kindle would tell me if I read 100% of Cristain’s book because all the dots should be blackened to the end, but since I read it on my iPhone while I was waiting for an appointment, the dots won’t be filled in until I sync my Kindle.

When it comes right down to it, I’ve been ignoring one of my favorite hobbies, reading books, and substituting it for reading on the internet.  It almost seems like I’m not reading when I read the internet because I’m just scratching the surface.  I read for information.  My friend has an ailment, I look it up.  I read a post on Facebook about a movie I’ve don’t know, so I stop and look it up.   I have friends who are way over my experiential head, and I can’t stand that, so I check things they write about out – on the internet.  I’m at a lecture, and the speaker says he has a web page – I visit it.  He makes a comment about the newest thing that the Igeneration is using.  I google it.  It’s five years old, and out of production.  Good thing he’s entertaining!

My step-son wants me to buy a Zero.  We check it out together.  I can’t even read the specs without his expert help.  I don’t think I’m ready to own a Zero, but I’m intrigued.

My husband wants to put up an awning.  We check out the newest things on HGTV’s blog.

But I can’t finish my books.  Here they are, and I like them all.

Now that I’ve confessed to you I promise that I will finish one of them today.

Common Core Reading Assessment Analyzed

As the Common Core Standards attempt to put rigor and relevance back into reading programs, students will be assessed on their ability to analyze primary source documents. This is one of the six major shifts – an increase in reading informational texts from the 9-15% they are currently reading in their elementary reading anthologies to 70% of a high school day they will be expected to spend reading informational texts across core curricular areas. The following is an example of an assessment of Reading Informational Text (RI) at a sixth grade level.

Students trace the line of argument in Winston Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” address to Parliament and evaluate his specific claims and opinions in the text, distinguishing which claims are supported by facts, reasons, and evidence, and which are not. [RI.6.8]” ELA Common Core Standards Appendix B p. 91.

Immediately California history teachers recognize that this sixth grade reading assessment is a California tenth grade history-social science standard. Clearly sixth graders are not expected to master the history standards to be able to do the task, but just as obviously, they will not have the background knowledge to thoroughly understand the context of this document. Teachers then ponder what they are supposed to do with this dilemma.

I have used this task as an example with many groups of teachers and administrators to show the need :

• for teaching history-social studies regularly at all grade levels
• for teachers to have time to analyze how they would tackle difficult reading tasks
• to create a sense of urgency that students have to spend more time reading difficult material
• for teaching social studies specific strategies for understanding informational texts

When I first looked at this prompt, all my training as a history teacher flew out the window as I was blinded by the task not aligning to the state standards. Once I got over the initial shock, I reverted back to known territory – and used the tools I know. I will walk through this reading prompt as I presented it to teachers and administrators K-12, highlighted by how I would teach it to students as a practice sample in my language arts class or self-contained sixth grade class. This is important to practice because students need to know how to read difficult texts, even when the topic is unfamiliar to them.

The Task:

“Students trace the line of argument in Winston Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” address to Parliament and evaluate his specific claims and opinions in the text, distinguishing which claims are supported by facts, reasons, and evidence, and which are not.”

Before they begin addressing any task, students need to reread it carefully. This will help them find specific words to explain and clarify the task. In this case all they have to do is to distinguish 1. What are Churchill’s claims? 2) Which claims are factual? 3) Which claims are not factual? (By definition a claim is something that one is asserting to be a fact, so the students looking words that seem like facts, but are not.)

Middle school teachers had no difficulty attacking this task and coming up with solutions, where teachers of other grade levels were somewhat overwhelmed. By and large middle school history teachers approached this task from a language arts perspective. As a language arts teacher, I recognize that there are some Tier Two words in this task information that I would teach because they are important for more than just this test: claim – assertion of something as a fact, address – meaning a speech, and braces – meaning to gain strength to stand against a strong force. I would simply remind students that Parliament a legislative body in England, just like Congress is in the United States, and that people from Britain are called Britons just like people from Mexico are called Mexicans. If I was not going to just teach to the test, as a language arts teacher, I would make a note to myself that my students need to read public addresses as part of my language arts program.

The Source:

“Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: Address to Parliament on May 13th, 1940.”Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History, 3rd Edition. Edited by William Safire. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004. (1940) From “Winston Churchill Braces Britons to Their Task”

When I gave this task to teachers, I did not give them any tools except to have the task and the speech printed in large font double spaced so they could write on it, and analyze what they did to make meaning of the text. I read the speech aloud to some groups, and that made a difference about how quickly they were able to distinguish emotion-laden words. However, the next time I present this task to teachers, I will give them a choice of tools to use, and have them discuss how those worked. With students, though, I would want to help them gain a thorough understanding of the prompt and to read as a historian. I would want them to learn to question the author. There are many tools recommended by different authors. I will only mention a few here.

APPARTS: author, (place& time), prior knowledge, audience, reason, main idea, significance
• Text, Context, Subtext: (Lesh, 2011)
• Evaluating Historical Opinions: (Lesh, 2011)
Fact v Opinion Chart
If I taught history or multiple subjects and I was teaching this to students, I would have them fill out the APPARTS Chart as best they could and then share in groups before they read the document. Sharing is the best way they can build background knowledge painlessly. They find out, not only what they know, but start questioning what they don’t know or might want to learn. Building curiosity by not answering all their questions gives them a motivation to read. I might also have another source for them to read after they do this that provides a bit of background for them. If they were already used to the APPARTS Chart, I might use Lesh’s form, Evaluating Historical Opinions, or use the Fact v Opinion T Chart form so students are looking at the words themselves.

However, as a language arts teacher, teaching history is not my main goal, and I merely want the students to be able to pick out fact from fiction using the language, so I would use the Fact v Opinion Chart. I might give them the background information after they read to confirm their findings. Further, I might play a YouTube video with the actual voice of Churchill as well as primary source video from the time period for the students that are second language learners. I would save this step for after the document has been analyzed to serve as a validation and not a scaffold. Students might then reanalysed the document based on hearing the speech and compare their findings.

The Primary Source Document:

I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs – Victory in spite of all terrors – Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival. I take up my task in buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. I feel entitled at this juncture, at this time, to claim the aid of all and to say, “Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.

Once the teachers analyzed and discussed the speech from a language arts perspective, looking at the structure of the speech which uses repetition, and for descriptive adjectives and nouns, it was a simple matter for them to do the task. Almost everyone did the task quickly, and they could have written about it, or answered multiple choice questions. This task does not specify how the students are supposed to demonstrate their learning, or what is an acceptable to prove their mastery. I would work with the teachers in my district to create rubrics for this task and others. Rubistar is a website that has a free rubric creation tool that is easy to modify.

Common Core Standards by its strong informational text requirements leads most consultants to recommend teaching history-social studies and science regularly in elementary classrooms. This is can be achieved in elementary grades by simply substituting teaching from the social studies text book or using other available non-fiction sources during reading language arts time. It is important to understanding the Common Core Standards that students also understand History Analysis Skills. Questioning strategies, alternative literature aligned specifically to California’s standards can be found in the document, The California Common Core Language Arts/History-Social Science Implementation Toolkit, available online at no cost at

Ideally, from an accountability standpoint, students should practice using primary source documents from the time period that aligns to the state history-social science standards. In California, starting in 5th grade the standards are studied chronologically, divided between U.S. History and World History, so this makes reading primary sources more difficult because the style of writing changes over time. It charges younger students with the responsibility to read writing from older periods in history. While historians wince at the idea of making changes to the primary source documents, successful teachers and professors shorten them to make understanding the documents attainable.

As the Common Core shifts happen, and students read more and more informational texts, students will slowly realize that their own thinking, using imagination alone is an untrustworthy method for understanding history, and for understanding informational texts about history.