A working HO scale, museum-quality model of the mighty Central and Southern Pacific train ferry that once plied the waters of the Carquinez Strait between Port Costa and Benicia will be shown at the Port Costa School on Thursday, October 14, from 6 to 8 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public. Donations will be accepted to help cover the cost of the traveling exhibit. The Port Costa stop is sponsored by the Port Costa Conservation Society. The display is one of four scheduled at Bay Area ports once known as home to the great steamer.

Reproductions of two historic postcards (above and below) show the 424-foot ferry, an engineering marvel of its time, loading railroad cars at Port Costa, bound for Benicia and points east. The giant ferryboat featured four sets of tracks capable of transporting two entire trains plus a switch engine.

The intricately-detailed model was 15 years in the making by Bill Rubarth, an HO model railroader, and Jim Turner, an accomplished ship modeler. Both are from Michigan. Rubarth’s brother Tom assisted with voluminous research on the subject of the Solano.

The Port Costa School is located at Canyon Lake Drive and Reservoir Street. The Solano display will be shown in the school’s auditorium located on the second floor. Refreshments will be served. For other stops in the Bay Area, please see the flyer at the bottom of this page. For additional technical details regarding the Solano, go to the website The Railroad Ferry Steamer "Solano" -- World’s Largest Ferryboat – Central Pacific Railroad.




photos by Sean Dempsey                         

On display in the Port Costa School auditorium (above), the Solano model drew a steady stream of interested visitors. Below, Tom Rubarth explains engineering details of the mighty railroad ferry.

A working model of the historic Solano, the world’s largest train ferry, made a brief stop at the Port Costa School on October 14 as part of a Bay Area tour that included San Francisco, Pt. Richmond, and the two "home ports" of the Solano ferry, Benicia and Port Costa. The finely detailed HO-scale model of the 424-foot ferry, 15 years in the making, was shown in the auditorium of the Port Costa School to an appreciative audience of history buffs, model railroad fans and local residents interested in Port Costa’s colorful railroad past. The museum-quality model was built by Jim Turner, a ship modeler, and Bill Rubarth, an HO railroader. Cookies, punch and coffee were served, and a collection was taken up to help defray lodging and transportation costs associated with the exhibit. Following the tour, which also included stops at the San Francisco Maritime Museum, the Golden Gate Model Railroad Museum in Point Richmond and the Benicia Public Library, Tom Rubarth sent a "thank you" e-mail, including the excerpt below, to all who volunteered their help with the traveling show.


The Port Costa School House may have been the shortest scheduled showing, but in retrospect it may have been the most interesting stop of them all. Not only did a nice (and fun) crowd continue to show up throughout the evening and refreshments were served (think "party"), but unbeknownst to us, someone stuck a donation jar on one of the tables. We were shocked when, as we were packing up, we were presented with a bag-O-money. We tried to donate it back to the PC School House but they wouldn’t have it. When we finally reached our hotel that night and counted the donations, we were again shocked! These were not just quarters and one dollar bills that these good people had donated – there were lots of 10's and several 20's in there. These were not wealthy folks. The memory of the real Solano ferry must still be an important part of their lives.

Thank you Dee Stewart and the PC crew for your help in pulling this stop together... and for the snacks and for the great time! You did a great job in promoting the evening to those in Crockett and Martinez as well as PCers. And you silenced some naysayers who told us outright that little ole Port Costa couldn’t generate enough "people draw" to make this stop worth it. It WAS worth it!