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Westward Bound — Homecoming!

I’m not exactly sure what the “most thrilling wonderful places” the Hiles would have missed that night were that could top their Royal Gorge experience. But I wasn’t quite prepared for what happened next.

I’m not exactly sure what the “most thrilling wonderful places” the Hiles would have missed that night were that could top their Royal Gorge experience. After leaving Reno they passed through Sacramento in the early hours of Sunday morning. Now, the space along the UP tracks between Reno and Sacramento is nice. There is also a lot of history to be recalled, so much so that the California State Railroad Museum regularly provides docents on the trains to tell the colorful story of the construction of the railroad through the Sierras, and Old Town Sacramento is also a great place to visit, although one has to remember it wasn’t as “Old” in 1919 as it is now.

But I wasn’t quite prepared for what happened next.

We passed through Sacramento in the early hours of Sunday morning. I think I got a few winks of sleep between that time and daylight. We reached Port Costa and crossed the Sacramento R. on the largest ferry boat in the world.

Ella Hile Diary, 14.

As I sit here at my desk in Martinez, California, Port Costa is exactly 7.4 miles away, and that’s having to go out on to Highway 4, take the McEwen Road exit, and then double back down to the water’s edge; it was much shorter before a landslide caused by the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 closed Carquinez Scenic Drive, the connector road known to locals, for obvious reasons if you’ve ever been there, as Snake Road.

A better view of the Solano ferry, built by the Central Pacific Railroad as part of the Transcontinental Railroad, that carried trains across the Carquinez Strait between Benicia on the north and Port Costa on the south. The Solano and Contra Costa ferries ran from 1879 to 1930, when a bridge over the strait from Benicia to Martinez opened. It remains in operation today as railroad bridge on the lower level and Interstate 680 on the upper level. The town of Port Costa has had a colorful history. Once a bustling seaport (at one time the busiest wheat shipping port in the United States), today it has roughly 200 residents, a few antique and assorted shops.

For further information on the Port Costa Ferry system, see “LOOKING BACK: RACE ACROSS THE STRAIT,” Benicia Magazine, October 24, 2011

They divided the train into sections, we scarcely knew that we were on a ferry, only by standing in the rear end of a coach and looking out onto the water. It takes about twenty minutes to cross.

Soon after this we reached Oakland pier, where we left our train and took the ferry [another ferry] to cross the bay to San Francisco.

Ella Hile Diary, 14.

Seeing how close the Hiles came to my home, albeit more than a century ago, was quite a jarring experience and it allowed me to journey back in time and to feel as if I were truly a part of the Westward Bound journey. Little did I know, it was about to happen again …

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