About Mnemic Train

What is Mnemic Train? It’s a company I formed while purchasing the Esparto train station property earlier this year.

‘Mnemic’ is the adjective for ‘mneme’, and a ‘mneme’, in turn, is a memory trace. Really, it’s the specific material form that a memory takes when we remember something. Memories can take form in images or stories, or indeed in any number of ways, and they often arise when we revisit an old haunt, hear a familiar song, smell a long forgotten smell, etc.

Mnemes, or memory traces – which is what I’m calling these sensory things that we remember – often come in the form of a ‘train’. In other words, they combine together in a sequence or a group (which is part of why they so naturally get told as stories). So a “mnemic train” is a series or arrangement of memory materials.

I chose this name because I suspect the Esparto train station to be a vehicle for a vast range of memories – of many of the people who live or have lived in its vicinity. [Special thanks, by the way, to Rick Robertson, and to his mother, who provided the scan of old Esparto photos from which I took the image above.] I want to hear (or see?) as many of these memories as possible. Ideally, I want to incorporate them somehow in the way that I/we think about what’s possible in the station’s future.

Who am I? My name is Maria McVarish and so far I’m the sole proprietor of Mnemic Train, LLC and the train station property. I grew up in Davis, California and have lived in the Bay Area since attending college and graduate school at UC Berkeley. I’m an architect, artist and writer and I teach interdisciplinary design and theory at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. You can find more information about me and my work there.

What am I going to do with the Esparto train station? Well, I’m not sure yet. Since acquiring it last May, I’ve spent most of my time and resources cleaning up the toxic soil there and documenting the existing structural conditions in preparation for some basic repair and stabilization work that I hope to get underway late next spring. I won’t be making any decisions about the longer term future of the station until I get to know more people from the Esparto area and listen to what they (you?) would like to see happen in this building and on its land. If you have ideas or resources for me to consider, please post a comment here. Please also consider attending the next Esparto Citizens Advisory Committee meeting on Monday, 10/18/11, where I will be on hand to field questions and discuss the station’s future (see my post on this below).

36 thoughts on “About Mnemic Train

      • Thanks , it looks great, I will be working late Tuesday the 18th but consider me counted as “very excited and looking forward to the transition” . I know the community will be interested and many of us are thrilled that the station will be saved. Similar station in Newhall, Ca has a great story as well. Rather than demolish it, the town moved it and restored it. It took several years and money was donated for the move. A vehicle was placed next to the station and as donations came in the vehicle was moved slowly down San Fernando Rd. toward it’s new location.

      • Really great image – that vehicle (train car, in my mind) moving slowly closer to the Newhall station as donations came in. Sorry I won’t get to meet you at next week’s meeting, but hopefully another time soon. Thanks for your comments so far.

      • Maria, I’m hoping to get in contact with you re the Depot. I was the owner who purchased the property from Southern Pacific in 1987. I owned it until 2004 or so and sold it to the owners you purchased it from. I have a great deal of historical information including architectural plans relevant to your project. Feel free to contact me at 530 902 3436 or by email at steve@carnelian.com
        Stephen Schuchman

        • Stephen, so glad to hear from you! Your name is everywhere associated with the depot. The work you did on the foundation in the 90s has kept the building standing. I will email you to follow up. Thanks much for posting here!

  1. Glad to see someone doing something with this beautiful structure. I do think this landmark has potential. I work in Benicia and we have an almost identical station that has been refurbished. I have always thought that the Esparto station could be made whole just like the one in Benicia. Maybe it could be used to showcase our local growers with their products and as an informational point for tourism in our area?

  2. Hi Maria,
    My name is Julie Rose, and I am a teacher for the Esparto Unified School District. I am also a parent, and my daughter attends Esparto High. I am active in the Esparto PTA, and I am very excited about the renovation of the Esparto Train station.

    A few years ago, Yolo County Library had a grant to record people’s audio stories in “I am California.” There were a lot of great stories about the Capay Valley. You might want to check with Malinda Baker, our county librarian, about listening to them. The stories were posted on line, but I don’t know the site.

    This past summer, I attended the Area Three Writing Project – Part of the National Writing Project – in Davis. This Institute helps teachers become better writers themselves, become better teachers of writing, and also helps teachers learn about the research in writing. We have some amazing writers in our community, and a writing group! I am looking forward to seeing how this space can bring writers and artists together. I look forward to meeting you on Oct. 18.

    • Thank you, Julie. I look forward to meeting you next Tuesday evening. I’d love to hear more about the writing community in Esparto’s environs, and particularly about any writing projects that include memoirs about living in the region, its changes over time.

      In the meantime, I think I’ve located the website that has the digital audio stories you mentioned: http://www.digitalstorystation.com

      There’s a “search videos” option in the lower right part of the home page where one can search the collection. I put in “Esparto”, “Capay” and “Yolo” and found some really excellent short films. I’ve forwarded your comment to the two people who are teaching the CCA class this coming spring so that they know to offer this resource to their students.

  3. BTW…Not sure, but the photo above is likely Capay (2 miles up the track) and not Esparto. In Capay the Train went right down main street and that was not so in Esparto. Also, the fellow that knows the most history about our town is David Herbst…Owner of the old locomotive repair building about 1/4 mile west of your depot. My Great Grandfather (Mom’s side-JJ Smith) help found the town of Esparto…and I live in the old Victorian on Main Street (which he built). But David is really the local history expert. Charlie Schaupp

  4. If you haven’t visited the historic Woodland Train Depot, now being actively restored, you should. Contact Mike Adams at 666-3979. He directs the activities there.

  5. Great job! Thanks for taking the initiative. I love your approach and the symbolism of the name. As a Capay Valley resident, I would love to see the space used as a gathering place. I don’t know what form that could take. Maybe not economically viable, but a mom-n-pop coffee shop/diner that uses local ingredients and showcases local art would be amazing.

  6. Wow what a great building. I had a great time photographing the inside of the train depot and reliving some great memories on how it has been used in the past. You are doing a great job. Thank you and good luck
    Steve Koelsch wwwphotographybysylvia.net

  7. Congratulations on your purchase and I wish you the best on the restoration. The best use for the station is to build the tracks back up the hill to Brooks and the casino and invite people to ride back to the casino in style. Let me know if you ever want to come up with an estimate to rebuild the track- we build it by the foot or the mile…
    Mike Hart
    President, CEO
    Sierra Railroad Company

    • *Right on* yes, get the trains running again; will give people another transport choice (which cuts down on the auto collisions on 16). Pleeeeze let’s lobby for Yolobus service between Madison (or Esparto!) and the Solano bus. This way, people can truly get around the region *with no car* . ahhhh. Just think of the GHG emission reduction credits that would bring stakeholders -Yolo Bus & County, funders (Yocha DeHe?), probably Solano transit/Co., etc.

    • Kerry – that is very kind of you! I will email you directly as I begin to get more organized about staying up there, especially as we move into construction on the first phase of work this summer. Meanwhile, thank you so much for your generosity.


  8. My name is Nancy Remington. I am a member of the Friends of the Esparto Library Board of Directors. I am a retired school administrator and educational consultant, I most recently worked as the Director of Education for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

    Twice a year I serve on a commission in Alexandria, VA. I frequently visit the Torpedo Factory Art Center on Alexandria’s Potomac River waterfront. The former torpedo factory attracts 500,000 visitors annually to visit the studios and workshops of 165 visual artists.
    The mission of the Torpedo Factory Art Center is to enhance public art appreciation and education by providing the opportunity to visit working art studios, artist cooperatives, and take classes. It plays an integral role in the economic, cultural and educational framework of the city. The Torpedo Factory Art Center has an informative website and even has a section: How to Start an Art Center.

    A second idea is to visit High Hand Nursery, Conservatory & Cafe, High Hand Gallery, and historic fruit sheds. The owner has developed a stunning conservatory and cafe anchoring one end of the historic fruit sheds looking out onto an expansive nursery. The former fruit packing sheds house small businesses which include a florist, wine tasting, landscape pottery, rugs, yarn, and an art gallery. There are plans for hand-crafted beer downstairs and artist studio space in the packing shed beyond the gallery. They’ve done an exciting job of recreating the historic fruit packing sheds. It’s kind of like visiting the old Nut Tree.
    It’s fun to see the old photographs of the packing shed including a group photograph of the fruit packing workers in the early days which includes my teenage mother.

    • Nancy,

      I think I met you on Sunday – right? Did you give me a copy of the High Hand brochure? Because I brought it home with me and read about the place that night. High Hand sounds like a great model – the way they’ve foregrounded the history and character of the building/place and used these to enrich a range of current uses. And also that the new uses seem to have a kind of synergy or cohesion. I would love to see it firsthand… Anyone want to join me?

      The Torpedo Factory Art Center also seems like a good example for me/us to follow. They have a very informative website http://www.torpedofactory.org/mission.htm, too.

      The old Nut Tree (which you mention in connection with High Hand) is often in my mind when I think about inspirations. I went there as a kid whenever we had a special occasion; it was one of my favorite places. I can see now, through my training as a designer, how much thought must have gone into creating the Nut Tree experience. It was unique and local yet accessible and attractive to people from farther afield.

      Thanks much for your thoughtful contributions to this site.


  9. PLEASE save this depot: if you need information, it’s a Southern Pacific Type 18 (left hand) Common Standard depot. The California State Railroad Museum archives and Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society have information and plans for the Common Standard structures. Southern Pacific structures are disappearing at an alarming rate and need to be saved, as they are an important link to California’s history. Although the company sent the building out in kit form, no two depots are alike (the Type 22 in Folsom has unique features that a Type 22 in Pleasanton would be lacking). Also if you head into Capay, one of the residents has moved the Train Order Station that sat along that line and has converted it into a dwelling.

  10. Hello Maria:
    I’m also a CCA arts professor and was asked to be a guest presenter and commenter in Alexis and Melinda’s Engage Class (Spring 2012). My work straddles Socially-Engaged Art and Landscape Design. I continue to be amazed and delighted by your project, would love to receive recent updates and explore any ways I might be helpful.
    I just spent a month in Cuba working on a massive project for their Biennial in which the international gang of us (30+) repurposed an abandoned industrial structure as an ephemeral exhibition/activity space for their community.
    Congratulations on your brilliant initiative!
    Lauren Elder

  11. Some of us (who are now in our 60s) will remember that the EHS Classes of 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1969 used the depot in the summer of 1965 to raise money for an electronic football scoreboard by hosting the first citywide garage sale. Each class was assigned a week to staff the operation, and it was a lot of fun. We made enough money to buy the scoreboard started the 1965 football season with the latest technology.

  12. Pingback: Go Spartans! Thanks to EHS classes of 1966 – 69 | MnemicTrain

  13. As I remember it, enough money was also raised to buy a scoreboard for the gym ( Kantlehner (sp.) Gymnasium), which I don’t believe is there anymore? Cliff and Norma Garrison, owners of the depot at the time, were most generous in allowing the use of their facility, and Mrs. Garrison helped immeasurably throughout. I know that there were many other adults who helped, but I can’t recall their names. The outpouring and support from the community was terrific!

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