Museum of the American Railroad

Years ago, when my kids weren’t much more than toddlers, I made a discovery down along the edge of Fair Park – The Museum of the American Railroad. Along one side of the Art Deco complex of buildings was a strip made up of a half-dozen sets of steel rails with an amazing collection of rolling stock. They had everything from an old station to restored dining cars to some of the largest steam engines ever made.

The kids loved the place. They would clamber around an on the huge masses of steel. Their favorite thing, of course, was to climb up into the cab and sit in the driver’s seat, looking out and around the giant boilers. You could see their imaginations working.

The only problem was that it was a terrible location. A weedy, hidden spot, neglected, unknown – the powers that ran Fair Park obviously didn’t want the trains there and had no appreciation for the unique and amazing history on steel wheels. I kept expecting to read that the place was melted down for scrap.

Nevertheless, over the years, there were rumors of renewal and movement. For a while I read about a spot in downtown’s West End where a developer would use the trains to anchor a new complex. But the ups and downs of the economy always killed the ambitions and plans and the railroad museum began to get more and more run down.

There is nothing worse than watching a potential jewel, especially one in a city that is so sorely lacking in any history whatsoever, slowly corrode and die. It was obvious that the city and the Fair Park management were waiting until the place was so far gone they could kill it once and for all without fear of reprisal.

Then, a couple years ago, I read that the City of Frisco was coming to the rescue. When I moved to North Texas, Frisco was a small town, far to the north of the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex. Over the last few decades the urban sprawl has vomited itself out across the cotton fields and swallowed Frisco whole. Now it is a huge shiny new city and hungry for signature attractions. What could be better than a museum made from a collection of antique locomotives? They already have a nice local museum up and going. So they put together a piece of valuable property right in the new city center and started plans for a new railroad museum.

When I first read about this a couple years ago my first thought was, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” I had seen this act before. However, I underestimated Frisco’s ability to get something done, and now, a short few years later, the site is ready and the rolling stock ready to move out to the suburbs.

The other day, I rode down the Dallas Santa Fe Trail from White Rock to Deep Ellum, and took a left turn under the mixmaster and into Fair Park. I rode around and took some photos. One stop I had to make was to see what was left of the railroad museum. It was sealed up with only a watchdog to bark at me through the wire. There weren’t any signs of activity that day, but I’m sure they were working on getting these huge old hunks of steel ready to move.

I’ve been following the news, trying to figure out when the big steam engines are going to move. I’d love to see these things on their journey – the first time they’ve moved in decades. That is so cool.

13 responses to “Museum of the American Railroad

  1. Thanks for the info. It’s always disappointing how little attention the railroads and their history are given. Another good reason for spending a few days in Dallas next time we change planes en route from and to the UK.

    • I’ve always said Dallas is a better place to live than to visit (sort of an anti-New York) but it has become a more cosmopolitan and welcoming place. The biggest problem in a short visit is the vast distances – the city is a lot larger than you think it is and getting around can be tough if you don’t know the ins and outs. Oh, and there is the heat.

  2. I used to volunteer at the Harvey House in Belen, NM. It was right down on the tracks at the busiest E-W junction south of Wyoming. I was amazed at all the people that would come out daily just to watch the AT&SF (now it’s been bought out by Burlington Northern) trains go by. After a while, I became a train junky, too. I loved the museum in Sacramento. Wow. I still love taking the train!

    • It’s funny how if you look back, how important trains (passenger and freight) have been. Thanks for the comment – I’ve never been to Belen – but love New Mexico and have always wanted to visit south of Albuquerque.

      • Oh, yes, you need to go to the Bosque Redondo and photograph the cranes 🙂 And there are SO many awesome things to photograph in New Mexico. I just wish I had a great camera while when I lived there. I did not.

        I love going back though. . .

    • The State Fair takes over Fair Park for the next month – I’m afraid if you want an uncrowded visit you’ll have to wait. Of course, the Fair itself is a pretty good photo op – between the animals, the people, and the fried food… I might go this year.

  3. Love the post — it is informative without reading like a documentary; it is moving without being saccharine.

    And to Penny: it happens to be the Lantern Festival this Sunday (30 Sep 12), an annual event that the Chinese celebrates with mooncakes (a sweet lotus-paste filled pastry), Chinese tea, and of course, lanterns.

    Back to Bill: it suddenly strikes me as fascinating how the conversation has evolved from your marvellous narrative on American Railroad. Thanks for the opportunity to learn, and to share.

  4. Pingback: Age of Steam | Bill Chance

  5. The city, for those who may have forgotten, sued the museum in the hopes of getting it off Fair Park grounds in time for the 2010 State Fair of Texas, which wanted to use the site to show off new cars. That’s still an option, according to Mark Jarrell, senior manager at Fair Park — either that or more parking for Fair Park.

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