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Redwood Valley Railroad, Depots and Winchester Mystery House 7/7/2022

by Chris Guenzler

We woke up at the Best Western at Cordelia and after checking the Internet, we went to MacDonald's for breakfast. I then drove us to the Suisan-Fairfield station and parked the car in the lot.

Southern Pacific Suisan-Fairfield station built in 1913. From here I drove us to Walnut Creek and our next station.

Southern Pacific Walnut Creek station built in 1891. Our second stop of the day was the Redwood Valley Railroad near Orinda.

Redwood Valley Railway History

It was established in 1952 by Erich Thomsen as the Tilden South Gate and Pacific Railway, on a 12 inch gauge, and has since expanded to one-and-a-quarter miles of track and carries over 160,000 passengers a year. Thomsen worked in the engineering department for the Western Pacific Railroad and received at least three patents for his work. The railway occupies land near the base of Vollmer Peak that was previously used as an anti-aircraft gun emplacement.

800 now-mature redwood trees were planted when the railroad was initially laid out. In 1968, the railroad was re-gauged to 15 inch The new 15" gauge, 5" scale equipment allowed two adults to ride side by side and is representative of American narrow gauge railroads. Two of Redwood Valley's locomotives have made trips to England, run on several English 15 in gauge railways, including the Ravenglass and Eskdale. After Thomsen died in 1995, his daughter Ellen assumed operations of the Redwood Valley Railway.


Rides last approximately 12 minutes. As of June 2021, tickets for adults and children are $3.50 (children under 2 years old ride free). A five-ride ticket costs $14.


The Redwood Valley Railway operates Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm year-round (11 am to sundown in winter - weather permitting). During the summer (from mid June to Labour Day) the railway operates seven days a week from 11 am to 5 pm on weekdays and 11 am to 6 pm on weekends.

Special events

The first full weekend in June is the Anniversary Meet, which is open to the public from 11 am to 6pm. Most of the Redwood Valley Railroad locomotives are under steam, and often visiting locomotives and rolling stock appear for the occasion.

Redwood Valley Railway celebrates "Winterfest", usually during the first and second weekends of December. During this time, the railway opens at its normal hours but closes after dark at 7 pm. Guests experience the magic of the winter forest after dark complete with Father Solstice on his own train, illuminated themed areas of the railroad pertaining to the stages of water and a warm, holiday atmosphere. Ticket prices are the same as normal operating days.

Our Visit

We went into the roundhouse to see the engines.

Redwood Valley 2-4-2 4 "Laurel" built in 1965.

Redwood Valley 4-4-0 5 "Fern" built in 1987.

Redwood Valley 2-6-2 7 "Oak" built in 2006. We walked over to the ticket office and bought our tickets then waited for the train to board. Sit back and relax and enjoy a trip aboard the Redwood Valley Railway.

I hope you enjoyed your trip aboard the Redwood Valley Railway.

Redwood Valley 4-6-0 11 "Sequoia" built in 1978 was the power for our train trip.

Souvenirs you can purchase from the ticket office.

Back in the roundhouse, a map of the property. This ends our coverage of this excellent railway.

On to Depots

As we descended the hill, we stopped for pictures.

The view of San Francisco, the Bay and Oakland. From here I drove us to San Leandro.

Southern Pacific San Leandro station built in 1898, home to the San Leandro Railroad Museum which is open Tuesdays and Saturdays.

The plaque on the station. We continued on to Alviso.

Southern Pacific Alviso station which is a residence and not the most accessible. From here I drove to Agnew.

Southern Pacific Agnew station built in 1877.

The plaque on the Agnew station building. We went to the Quailty Inn in Santa Clara and checked in then just after 3:30 pm, we left for our next destination.

Winchester Mystery House The Move Out West

The Winchester Mystery House is an architectural wonder and historic landmark in San Jose that was once the personal residence of Sarah Lockwood Pardee Winchester, the widow of William Wirt Winchester and heiress to a large portion of the Winchester Repeating Arms fortune. Tragedy befell Sarah -- her infant daughter died of a childhood illness and a few years later her husband was taken from her by tuberculosis.

Shortly after her husband's death, Sarah left their home in New Haven, Connecticut and moved out west to San Jose. There, she bought an eight-room farmhouse and began what could only be described as the world's longest home renovation, stopping only when Sarah passed on September 5, 1922.

These Are The Facts

From 1886 to 1922, construction seemingly never ceased as the original eight-room farmhouse grew into the world's most unusual and sprawling mansion, featuring: 24,000 square feet, 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 160 rooms, 52 skylights, 47 stairways and fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 13 bathrooms and 6 kitchens, built at a price tag of $5 million dollars in 1923 or $71 million today.

It's A Mystery

But what remained is indeed a mystery. Even before her passing, rumors of a "mystery house" being built by an eccentric and wealthy woman swirled. Was she instructed to build this home by a psychic? Was she haunted by the ghosts of those felled by the "Gun that Won the West"? Did construction truly never stop? What motivated a well-educated socialite to cut herself off from the rest of the world and focus almost solely on building the world's most beautiful, yet bizarre mansion.

Ahead Of Her Time

Sarah Winchester was a woman of independence, drive and courage who lives on in legend. And the mansion she built is world renowned as much for the many design curiosities and innovations (many ahead of their time) as it is for the reported paranormal activity that resides within these walls.

These mysteries and more are what has drawn over 12 million guests to visit the Winchester Mystery House since the doors opened June 30, 1923. Will you be able to unlock the mystery?

A Top Destination

Nearly 100 years after the house opened for tours, millions of guests have visited Sarah Winchester's beautiful home. We've been mentioned in many "Top Destination" lists around the world: *

A Top Destination, USA Today

"Most Mysterious Place on Earth", MSN

Top 10 Haunted Place, The Travel

A Top Haunted Destination, Travel Channel

A Top 10 Haunted Place, Time Magazine

A Top 10 Best Haunted Destination, USA Today

Our visit

We parked around the corner and walked to the front of this fabulous building.

Our first view of the Mystery House.

The entrance where you show your reservation or buy your ticket.

California historical plaque.

100 Years of Mystery plaque.

Above the door before you enter.

Your first view of the house from the courtyard. We were here for our 4:00 tour. You enter through the gift shop and wait for the tour in the courtyard. Elizabeth went into the gift shop but although there were plenty of items available, nothing appealed to her. She joined me back outside and waited until our tour was called.

Jesus Martinez was our excellent and knowledgeable tour guide. He first took us inside the Carriage Room where there is an aerial photograph of the whole estate.

One of the famous doors to nowhere.

The carriage that Sarah Winchester once used.

The staircase to nowhere.

The first official room we came into was a history room about Sarah and her family; on display are several stained glass windows with unique features that Jesus pointed out to the group.

The show started with a brief but complete history of Sarah and her family, pictured is William Winchester.

The unique aspects of the stained glass are the spider-web and the thirteen planets. The number thirteen is featured throughout the house in a variety of ways.

Sarah was only four feet ten inches and her feet did not reach the floorboards of her carriage.

Both of us have ridden switchbacks on trains but had never encountered a switchback staircase. Such a great invention exists in this house.

Wallpaper swatches found throughout the house. Linseed oil is one of the ingredients and they cost more than a day's wage in the 1890's.

The sewing room.

The bedroom of Sarah's niece, Marion Mariott, who lived in the house for several years.

The office adjacent to the niece's bedroom.

The shower in the thirteenth bathroom that was made especially for Sarah due to her arthritic condition but was never used as she passed away before it was completed.

The spider web theme is prevalent here.

Looking out of the window into the garden.

Another door to nowhere.

This is the only dumbwaiter in the mansion. It goes from the first floor outside the servant's kitchen to the second floor.

The room outside Sarah's bedroom.

Sarah's bedroom. The furnishings in this room and throughout the house are period-specific but not original. All the furnishings of the house was left to Sarah's niece and those she did not want to keep were sold. From the original Luncrusta Walton Wallcovering to the ornate ceilings and perfectly preserved after nearly 97 years of tours. Sarah passed away in this room in her sleep in 1922 at the age of 83. Sarah relocated to this room after getting trapped inside of the Daisy Bedroom during the 1906 earthquake. One legend says that Sarah felt the earthquake was a warning from the spirits that she had spent too much money on the front section of the house.

Sarah's sister Isabel, her niece Marian and the family dog, Zip, who was a stray and Sarah took it in.

We walked through two more rooms before we came to the Conservatory.

The Conservatory.

The next room of this incredible mansion.

Part of the Hall of Fire, so named for the several heating elements in this room.

A visitor's bedroom.

This staircase, known as the 7-11, had very small risers.

Sarah's sister, Isabel's, room which had a Japanese flavour to it.

The South Conservatory.

Another room in this wonderful mansion. Not all rooms had nameplates.

Two of the many stained glass windows.

The view looking out of the window.

One of the special windows.

Sarah's original bedroom where she was trapped for hours after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The picture shows the damage to the house.

Beautiful stained glass windows abound through this mansion.

The enunciator outside the servants' kitchen.

The servants' room.

The servants' quarters.

We had ascended to the third floor and had these views.

One of the many bedrooms.

The unique bathtub in the next room.

Jesus Martinez, our wonderful tour guide, standing on the steps which was the original entrance to the eight-room farmhouse. There are two ways to enter the room behind; the second being the door to the left.

The laundry room where the tubs and washboards were made of porcelain rather than metal.

A storeroom.

Views inside the kitchen.

The double dining room. In early January 2020, the Winchester Mystery House completed an eight-month restoration of one of the oldest rooms. Called the North Dining Room, it is believed to be the original dining room of the modest farm house that Sarah bought when she moved to San Jose in the mid-1880s, and it forms the nucleus of what eventually became her 160-room mystery house. Abandoned in the middle of a remodeling project back in Sarah's day, this humble chamber was one of the least attractive rooms in the mansion for more than a century.

The sitting room adjacent to the dining room.

An ornate fireplace.

The Grand Ballroom of the mansion. The construction cost more than $9,000 when it was built in the late 1800s, about 3.5 times the cost of an entire home during that time. Millions of guests over the years have raved over the many detailed instances of thirteen, the famous Shakespearean-inscribed windows (from Troilus and Cressida & Richard II), and the haunting tale of the safe hidden behind multiple layers. Not only is this one of the most well-preserved rooms in the house, it also inspired the ballroom design at Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride.

Our path took us back through the kitchen.

These two statues were found on the property but had never been displayed; the eagle was still in its box when discovered.

The final room on the tour was the Venetian Ballroom which features an antique pump organ and stunning floor-to-ceiling hand-carved woodwork. That concluded the tour, which the two of us completely enjoyed and highly recommend it if you come to San Jose. Now we will explore the gardens.

Part of the gardens.

View of the outside of the mansion.

Serpent Fountain with statues guarding it.

The Mystery House from another angle.

Well-manicured gardens.

The unique design of the outbuildings.

The carriages would pull in here before entering the mansion.

Another fountain.

The pump house.

A trellis of wisteria.

Part of the expansive estate.

A well-established hydrangea bush.

The fruit drying shed.

The foreman's house.

One last view of the mansion. This concluded our tour of the Winchester Mystery House. Elizabeth and I were both extremely impressed by it all. From we went to The Habit for dinner then returned to Quality Inn for the night.