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The Road to Sesame Street Runs Through Salinas?

The two shows and film from my childhood that brings back happy memories are: Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and The Muppet Movie. All three were the brainchild of puppeteer Jim Henson.

Henson had worked on Sesame Street but wanted to expanded towards a variety show for children and adults. American television was not interested in his new vision but they were in Britain. The Muppet Show became a huge international success and Henson wanted to take the Muppets to the big screen. This became the Muppet Movie (1979). For the film, Henson wanted to take the Muppets out of the studio and into real filming locations. And one of those locations was a mere 50 minute drive from my cabin in Santa Cruz.

That’s where my Muppet sketching quest begins!

And so it was that I headed south and then east towards the city of Salinas in Monterey County. South of Downtown Salinas, between Highway 68 and South Davis Road is the rural farming road, Foster Road.

Kermit the Frog from the Jim Henson exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

This is the setting of one of the more memorable scenes in the film and it occurs during the song “Movin’ Right Along” where Kermit and his new friend Fozzie Bear are driving to Hollywood to become famous in Fozzie’s Studebaker.

Kermit and Fozzie are performed and voiced by long time collaborators Henson (Kermit) and Frank Oz (Fozzie). They are probably best known in Sesame Street as Bert and Ernie. Frank Oz was also the performer and voice of Yoda.

Kermit and Fozzie drive down a road, framed by farm fields and they come upon a large yellow bird walking the other direction with a suitcase. Fozzie asks, “Hey there, want a lift?” And Big Bird replies, “Oh no thanks. I’m on my way to New York City to try and break into Public Television.” Fozzie say, “Ahhh. . .good luck!”

Big Bird was performed by Caroll Spinney and it was great to see all three puppeteers in one scene: Henson, Oz, and Spinney.

Foster Road, Salinas, California, the filming location of Kermit and Fozzie meet Big Bird in The Muppet Movie.

At the intersection of Foster Road and South Davis Road, is the location of the scene when the Studebaker drives in circles, filmed from a helicopter above, as Fozzie sings, “California here we come/ the pie-in-the-sky-land”. Of course the irony is that they are already in California, Salinas, California. Which is 300 miles north of Hollywood.

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Salinas Station

After sketching historic passenger train stations between San Francisco and San Jose, I decided to expand my scope by visiting all of the existing stations on the Daylight Route from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Salinas is probably best known as the birthplace of writer John Steinbeck. It is also known as the “Salad Bowl of the World” because its marine climate makes it an ideal location for agriculture. But I was here because it was the third Daylight stop on the line out of San Francisco. This would be the connection point for any traveller from the Monterey Bay Area wishing to head south to The City of Angels or north to the City of Saint Francis.

Salinas Station was built by Southern Pacific in 1941. It is designed in an Spanish Revival Style, with its red tiled roof, mixed with touches of the then popular Art Deco style, shown by its clean lines, letter design, and interior.

The station’s construction coincided with the rise of Southern Pacific’s premier passenger train, the Daylight Limited. Promoters called the Daylight, “the most beautiful passenger train in the world”. And this was not mere hyperbole.

This station bears a few commonalities with the two Daylight stations that still exist in the Bay Area, Palo Alto and San Jose. All three stations have murals painted by John MacQuarrie. And two of these murals feature Southern Pacific’s most beautiful locomotive at the the time the GS-2. This streamlined 4-8-4 is in the Palo Alto Station and here at the Salinas.

When the station was completed in 1941, the zenith of Southern Pacific’s passenger steam locomotives had arrived in the “super power” of the GS-4. The increased ridership of this route is evidenced by the the fact that Southern Pacific ordered 28 locomotives from the Lima Locomotive Works between 1941 and 1942.

The John MacQuarrie mural at Salinas was painted in 1941 (the same year as the Palo Alto mural) and prominently features the star motive power at the time, the Golden State 2 (GS-2). Six of these locomotives were built and went into service in 1937.

It was a beautiful winter day in Salinas with a high of 70 degrees. I walked around the station and at the platform, a Los Angles bound Coast Starlight was paused to pick up passengers for destinations to the southland. This Amtrak train replaced the Daylight in 1971. At least from Salinas to Los Angeles.

Salinas station was a station that was still in use. There are actual humans attending to the ticket window who could actually answer questions and issue tickets. The interior contained bathrooms, food vending machines, and benches for passengers waiting for their train to arrive. It was nice, for a change, to see a train station being used for its intended purpose.

It’s great to see that Salinas Station is still a vibrant station on the former Daylight Route. The car to the right is where I would probably be: the Lounge Car! To the right is a couple waving their loved one goodbye and safe travel.

I set up my camp/ sketching chair across from Salinas Station and started to sketch. I originally wanted to sketch the station from a formal view but the parking lot was being rebuilt and was fenced off. So I sketched a little bit off center.

Next to the station is the Monterey & Salinas Valley Railroad Museum. They have a collection featuring a Southern Pacific steam locomotive switcher, a Southern Pacific caboose, and a few rail cars on static display.

Southern Pacific switcher Number 1237 on static display in Salinas. This locomotive is pointing to the north but will likely never move north again.