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This is a story about Sam's Town. It is no longer present, but it is remembered by many ... back in the time!

image of Sams Town Turns 20 celebration

Sam’s Town
1967 - 2001

Sam's Town: Highway Landmark Turns 20
The following is an article, in its entirety, published in the Mountain Democrat June 17, 1987 by staff writer Brian Taylor.

"Throw your peanut shells on the floor" -- that's been the order of the day for 20 years now at Sam's Town, whose 7,400 light bulbs outlining an "old west" constellation guiding travelers to the Cameron Park exit off Highway 50.

image of Sams Town Arcade, Photo Courtesy of Mountain Democrat The restaurant, saloon, museum and arcade bus stop is celebrating its 20th anniversary all year long with special prices on meals; it's the creation of Sam Gordon, entrepreneur of former "Hof Brau King of Sacramento". In his 80's now and living next door to the Liberace Estate in Palm Springs, Sam remains in almost daily contact with his namesake's "Mayor" and Business Manager, Arthur C. Singer. "He certainly keeps the phone lines hot," Singer declared; Sam wants to ensure that his philosophy endures: "Treat others in every way as you would want to be treated yourself."

To Singer, that means providing rest and relaxation from the rigors of highway travel with good meals, cold drinks, coin-operated arcades, and a museum of turn-of-the-century memorabilia. These services are maintained for the public by friendly employees who follow Singer's (or Sam's) lead in furnishing "the good old fashioned niceties that all too often are forgotten."

A tour of Sam's Town begins in the parking lot -- in fact, it may be a tour of the parking lot, as the weary traveler searches for space to haul his wagon team (OK, his station wagon) into. Ah, there's a spot next to the rough-hewn wheeled cage that, a plaque informs us, was used to cart Charleston Heston around in the first "Planet of the Apes" movie.

image of Lillian RussellWalking in the door, we are presented with a panorama of frontier mining scenes by George Mathis*, who was commissioned to paint then-Governor Ronald Reagan's official portrait, according to Singer. The line for hostess seating in either the Diamond Jim or the Lillian Russell dining room is too long; so let's go wash out the trail dust out of our parched throats in the Honky Tonk Room.

This was the original Red Coach Inn, Singer says, that Sam bought in 1967 after he sold his 12 Sacramento Hof Braus to the Denny's restaurant chain. Built in the early 60's to cater to Aerojet workers, the Red Coach fell victim to the industry slump.

Sam eventually expanded from this room to create the present Sam's Town that covers .7 acres. The Hof Brau theme survives here, with sawdust covered floors strewn with peanut shells, Gay 90's music, mingling with the clink of cold mugs, and people of all ages inhibiting soft or hard drinks and devouring food from the fast food counter. Old-time live music curls around the smoke rings. Some 100 antique guns are displayed in the adjacent Gunfighter's Room where additional seating is available.

The Roundup Room and the cavernous Game Room feature what Singer calls the "largest arcade in the area" where two bits will buy anything from five minutes of adventures on the latest video games to an intimate peak through an 1880's mutoscope. Serenades by mechanical pianos and concertos are also available; this reporter passed up the booths offering to tell fortunes or analyze sex appeal -- some things we're better off not knowing...

Entrance to Sam's Town museum is hidden behind the General Store's barrels of candies; the museum is not to be missed. Singer is proudest of the Wells Fargo Stage Coach, a well preserved relic that was the last conveyance that the express company ran between San Francisco and Salt Lake City. Sam bought the coach at the urging of his wife, offering $44,000 to out-bid a widely-known bank.

Also featured is a gleaming red horse-drawn fire engine that dazzles the eyes, old street trolleys, antique bicycles, a 150-year old doll, and wax figures of Abe and Mary Lincoln, General George Washington, and Dwight Eisenhower in his World War I captain's uniform. Larger displays recreate homestead scenes and a one room school house from a century gone by.

image of Roger MarrisPhotographs memorialize the meeting Sam arranged between baseball great Roger Marris and Sal Duarte, the lucky youth who caught Marris' famous 61st home run ball, the one that broke Babe Ruth's single-season record. Sam, who exercises a passion for baseball flew the slugger and the fan to Sacramento, where he paid $5,000 for the ball and donated it to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

"We're interested in offering free tours of the museum to school groups," Singer announced; he believes the museum provides a valuable window into the past that helps young people understand the realities of frontier life. Busses can easily be accommodated in the parking lot that preserves the area's coach-stop heritage by providing daily bus service through Greyhound.

Teachers should certainly appreciate the preferred field trip through time, but may not appreciate the accompanying honky lesson in manners: "throw your peanut shells on the floor" -- it's the way of life at Sam's.

The following was taken from Sam’s Town marketing brochure provided by the El Dorado County Museum.

“The unique charm and atmosphere of Sam’s Town with its eye-appealing gingerbread architecture makes it a perfect setting for snapshots and home movies. Don’t be shy, use your camera and get some of the most memorable pictures you have ever taken.

Sam Gordon’s two most great loves of his life have been baseball and American antiques. He made headlines all over the world when he paid $5,000 for Roger Marris’s 61st home run ball. Mr. and Mrs. Gordon spent years buying and collecting various pieces and artifacts relating to the early Americana era. The Gordon's stored these antiques in various warehouses hoping that someday they would have an opportunity to put them on display so that the public could enjoy them. Out of this dream came Sam’s Town. The Gordon's expanded the facility to some 30,000 square feet which includes their historic antique collection, fun arcade, general store, and additional restaurants, each and every artifact or antique is authentic. Sam and Donna Gordon would not have it any other way. Sam’s Town is located approximately 30 miles east of Sacramento, California on Historic Highway 50. Sam’s Town has become a “planned stop” for people traveling to or from Lake Tahoe. There’s a beautiful “Best Western” Motel located adjacent to Sam’s Town for overnight or weekend guests.”

image of Wagontrain Stops In Cameron Park 2001, photo provided by Sharon BaldwinOn a hot June, 2001 afternoon in Cameron Park on Coach Lane, this photo was taken of George Alger (Highway 50 Association Wagon Master) with his wagon and horses in the large Starthistle field in front of old Sam’s Town waiting for the wagon goers, who walked to McDonald's for a quick lunch before they got rolling to complete their wagon train journey to Old Sacramento.

P.S. Too bad I didn't turn around to take the photo of what was left of old Sam's Town behind me!

The Sam’s Town western facade was eventually sold and hauled off to a destination unknown.

*George Mathis was a local artist of that time in El Dorado County.