6:30 pm, I-80 West, 28 December 2008
Do you hear that?
“Hear what?” my droopy-eyed-spouse said.
That noise. It’s a “wha-ding, wha-ding, wha-ding” kind of noise…
“I don’t hear anything. Actually, there are a lot of noises”.
It does seem a bit loud in here.
We had just stopped at the new “Nut Tree” for dinner and a spur of the moment HUGE ice cream Sunday. It was my first trip there since I was a small child, and was in some way the closing chapter in another quest of mine.
I have had fuzzy memories of riding small railroad trains as a kid. The memories did not seem quite consistent, but there are certain details that stood out clear as a bell. Especially one memory when we were with my grandmother, one of the last happy occasions we spent any time with her. I was on a quest to find the train in question. I had no idea why I remembered this one train so vividly, but I had to find it, or figure it out. This was to be both enlightening and frustrating at the same time. I could see it in my minds eye… but could not find it in real life. It was another obsession.
It turns out that I had ridden several different trains as a small child when we lived in the Bay Area. I know this now because my “I-have-a-kooky-husband-spouse” and I have visited many different miniature trains sites in the last several years. Each one sparked and matched a different memory perfectly, (Check! Another one off the list!) but still did not match the main one I was after.
In my research I stumbled across info on the “Nut Tree”, which was a popular midway rest stop on I-80 until a storm took out the business in the mid 90s. The photos seemed familiar, yet did not match what I saw in my head. It seemed to be a lead, but I might never know for sure because the site was closed and had an uncertain future.
A few years later several boxes of my late grandfather’s photos were found and given out to the family to share amongst ourselves. In the piles I came across one photo that was the EXACT memory I held, and in the photo was my Grandmother taking my siblings and I for a ride on the Nut Tree train. Mystery solved… and lots of old memories were awakened of the time we spent there. I became a bit of a history buff on the place, along with the other roadside stops in the area, such as Coffee Tree, the Milk Farm with its cow jumping over the moon (I always knew how far along we were on road trips when I saw the neon cow’s legs flashing back and forth as if in a jump).
There were others there too such as The Coffee Tree, the Travelers Pancake House, the Brigadoon Lodge and the Monte Vista, all with their Googie architecture and signs. It was always a little sad every time I passed the sites they used to be on. I still remember pineapples with marshmallow sauce, mini breads, and cashews. I wasn’t allowed to have the pineapple marshmallow, which is why I bitterly remember it being delivered to a nearby table.
On this trip up to Willows however, I noticed that now the site had been redeveloped (oh dear) and the park was now re-opened. Interesting…
On the way home I said “Want to stop in Vaccaville for diner?”
“Are you going to ride the train?” asked my “are-you-still-obsessed-spouse”.
“Oh, I don’t know.” I replied. Translation, “Yes.”
“Okay, but don’t make me ride another train, ok?”
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