Saturday, 20 July 2013

The California State Railroad Museum Tour

So here's another way of taking a guided tour... on Youtube. Yes, there is a wealth of guided tours captured for posterity and available online. Today I took the California State Railroad Museum Guided Tour and if you click on the link you can too. 

It reminded me at first of the Henry VIII Tour of Portsmouth I covered recently in that it was given by an older gentleman who spends the first 10 minutes of the tour giving a history lesson which makes little or no reference to the objects or architecture around him. An important difference however is that this man in dressed in costume and this somehow gives him more of a pass.   

The structure of the tour is basically chronological beginning with the construction of the railroads and finishing with the modern trains. This is more or less the way the museum itself is laid out so once he starts to move it flows more easily. From time to time he gives demonstrations of the actions of railroad workers such as at this point where he shows what brake men had to do in order to stop a train. He doesn't interact with any of the engines or objects however, he stands in front of them and talks about them. The tour just tells the story of the artefacts, if you want to look more closely you do so when the tour is over. It is therefore an introduction to the collection, a description of some things that you should look out for when you go round later by yourself. In this sense, it is a tour of a tour. 

A special quality to this tour is that the guide is both a bit forgetful and quite charming at the same time. He finds a good way to perform himself, maybe not dissimilar to how former governor of California Ronald Reagan managed to do, so that you can accept the slips, detours and late additions to the script quite easily. The guide does not appear to be troubled by these so you the listener can also settle into this more relaxed, homespun manner which, when contrasted to the in your face hard sell manner of presentation or the doublespeak of the political class, goes down a lot more easily.

A further thing I notice about him being older is that this makes him quite suitable for talking about old technology. Even though he was not even born when the first steam trains were making their way across North America, he is still closer to that time period than I am. Compare for example if a very knowledgable 17-year old were to give the same tour, the effect would be completely different. The material would simply sound very alien coming out his mouth, he would sound like a good student reciting his homework. By having an older guide who appears to be more connected to history than most of the listeners simply by virtue of the fact he is older than them, he is conferred with a degree of respect when it comes to talking about things that happened in the past.

With this tour over it leaves plenty of scope for other virtual tours. I heard about people doing online pilgrimage (e-hajj) and I see tours of the Tower of London, Wimbledon Tennis Club and The Space Station waiting for me, amongst many other. I will for now however get back to terra firma and have two short tours awaiting me tomorrow.   

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