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Dining riding the rails of the Sierra

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A photo illustration shows an example of a Sierra Railroad dinner and the dinner train as it prepares to leave Oakdale.

Photo contributed/

POSTED April 6, 2012 9:46 p.m.

OAKDALE — The appeal of dining on 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, good scenery and good food all at a leisurely pace that makes the tab seem like a downright bargain.

The Sierra Railroad just isn’t a dining and entertainment experience. It is an excursion into a slower-paced world making it a mini-vacation of sorts on rail.

Sierra Railroad trains pull out of the heart of Oakdale near where Highway 120 and Highway 108 meet periodically throughout the month.

The next seven weeks includes:

• Scenic lunch trains departing at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, April 17; Tuesday April 24; Thursday, May 3; Monday, May 14; and Wednesday, May 23. Tickets are $28 for children 2 to 12 while adult tickets are 53. Lunch and dinner selections include choice of salmon, chicken, beef or lasagna entrees.

 • Mystery theatre dinner trains departing at 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 21; and Saturday, May 26. Tickets for ages 2 to 12 are $41 while adult tickets are $67 and $92 depending on the package chosen.

• Mother’s Day Brunch on Sunday, May 13, at 11 a.m. Tickets for ages 2 to 12 are $28 while adult ticket prices are $53 or $69 depending on the package chosen.

• Dinner train on Saturday, May 12, departing at 5 p.m. Tickets for ages 2 to 12 are $38 while adult ticket prices are $59 to $84 depending on the package chosen.

Sierra Railroad runs year-round with the schedule stepped up during the summer. There also are theme trains throughout the year such as at Halloween and Christmas. Summer offerings include combining the lunch train with rafting on the Stanislaus River. Hors d’oeuvres for the dinner train are served at the station as you wait to board the Sierra. 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. This is where those who opt for the summertime train and rafting package get off and are taken to Knights Ferry to float down the Stanislaus back to Orange Blossom Park. From there transportation is provided back to Oakdale.

After reaching the stopping point, the engine reverses direction and takes you back to Oakdale.

If you have ridden Amtrak don’t expect the same experience. The slowed Sierra Railroad excursion features food two or more notches above Amtrak fare 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. It is still a working railroad moving freight.

It is also 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 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.

209 staff reporter

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