Climb the steps into a restored antique rail car parked in front of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley in Danville, California. Step inside the car and open the door. What do you expect to find? Perhaps an exhibit on railroad history? A map showing the route that Danville’s historic railroads took?
Wrong! The correct answer is: a toilet.
That’s right; this historic Union Pacific car in Danville, California might just be the East Bay’s strangest bathroom.
Museum of the San Ramon Valley
The Museum of the San Ramon Valley is a small local history museum situated inside a restored railroad depot from the 1890s. It has everything a local history museum should have: exhibits on the town’s railroads and legacy, super dedicated and passionate staff, a small gift shop, and a yearly massive model train display.
The museum doesn’t have much space and isn’t about to add a new wing to its historical building to house basics like a restroom.
An Innovative Solution: Restrooms on a Southern Pacific Rail Car
That’s the catalyst behind the innovative solution we see today. On a stretch of track in front of the museum sits a Southern Pacific rail car. The museum has modified this car to house two modern restroom facilities.
Don’t worry; you won’t be using the historical restroom from the railroading years! These facilities are accessible and fully modernized. They just happen to be located inside a historic rail car.
To make things even stranger, the rail car houses both bathrooms and a historical display. When you walk in, you’re greeted by a mannequin wearing full conductor’s regalia. There are some historic displays about the history of the railroad and a glass case with railroading objects.
I’ve often walked into the train car seeking the restroom, and been startled by the mannequin, who looks like a full-sized person sitting outside the restroom door behind a glass wall!
The Power of Architectural Reuse
As much as this may be a strange restroom, it’s also a fantastic example of the power of architectural reuse. Lots of old train cars end up rotting on the sides of tracks around California.
It’s much nicer to see this one transformed into something functional for the museum that also provides some educational value.
There are plenty of examples of restaurants in train cars in the Bay Area, as well as adaptive reuse situations where old train cars are used for storage or other purposes. It’s nice to see an example in Danville.
Valuable Service to the Community
The restroom also provides valuable service to the community. It’s situated on the Iron Horse Trail and is a popular stopping point for cyclists. Its also perfectly located next to the Danville Farmers Market, making it easier for visitors to the market to use the facilities, especially on weekend mornings when few other places in Danville are open.
Overall, the restroom on a train at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley in Danville may be one of the strangest restroom facilities you’ll find in the East Bay.
But it’s also a great example of the Bay Areas’ spirit of reuse and recycling, as well as a great stop to take care of some “essentials” while on a hike — and strangely, to learn a bit about railroad history in the process!