If you love trains, a trip to a steam train museum is a must. Not only do museums show off the amazing technology that made train travel possible but also provide a glimpse into the past when these incredible machines were at their peak.
A tour of a steam train museum can be an eye-opening experience for people of all ages and backgrounds. You can see how the rails conquered the West and opened up new opportunities for communities and small towns. But you can also learn about the hardships of life on the railroad, why it was important to have strong unions and how railway safety regulations have evolved over time.
The National Railway Museum at York, England, has a remarkable collection of about 280 rail vehicles. Some are on permanent display while others are on loan from other museums and heritage railways. The most famous is probably the 280-ton passenger steam locomotive No. 1401 which was built in 1926. This is considered the best representative of steam during the early part of the 20th century.
Another must-see is the LNER Class A4 No. 60008 Dwight D. Eisenhower which is displayed in BR Brunswick Green and No. 60010 Dominion of Canada which is displayed in Garter Blue. These two locomotives were originally based at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin and Exporail in Montreal but were returned to York on temporary loan to be cosmetically restored.
In the Barber Junction Depot visitors can view the original train station built in 1898 as well as historic passenger and freight rail cars. The Bob Julian Roundhouse is the largest roundhouse in North America and houses locomotives on display and in various stages of restoration as well as a full-size replica Wright Flyer. Other historic structures include the logging Camp 6 structures and the massive Back Shop where locomotives were completely overhauled in days gone by.
One of the most fun and informative things to do at a steam train museum is to visit the Roundhouse shop where volunteers work on the trains. Although you can only peer in at the work area from a viewing platform, it gives you an idea of what goes on inside these magnificent machines. The volunteers are extremely knowledgeable and helpful with questions so if you have any questions about the mechanics of steam trains be sure to ask.
You can ride the train during regular excursions from May through October. The trip is 14 miles from Elbe to Mineral near Mt. Rainier National Park and admission to the museum is included in your ticket.
The Whippany Railway Museum in New Jersey is a great example of how a community can support their local museum through donations and volunteer efforts. The museum has a very large collection of vintage train cars and is an excellent place for family fun. The museum’s goal is to keep train history alive and it certainly is doing that. The museum is a model for other organizations to emulate.