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American Trains in all their Glory

4a~ A Texas Museum Preserves History ~

 

by Tom Burnett

 

The Museum of the American Railroad is a collection of some 50 locomotives, passenger cars and freight carriers that represent the heyday of the railroad from steam to diesel and straight on through to electric.

 

The Museum, founded in 1963, is located in Frisco, Texas, approximately 30 miles north of Dallas. Around the museum building ‘proper’ are tracks which serve to support, display and re-locate more train cars than is easily counted. The museum acquires the cars from private collectors, industry and rail lines. The collection grows more and more all the time.

 

John Garbutt, Director of Museum’s Programs & Services, explains the collection is in a bite of disarray. "We only recently moved from the Dallas Fair grounds to here." He continued, "The facility is still under construction with the equipment in a storage mode. Plans are to lay 10 exhibit tracks, so we can properly display the pieces that historically go together."

 

The collection features iconic pieces like the Big Boy, one of the few surviving largest Steam engines ever manufactured. The grounds are arrayed with a diverse collection of specialty cars. Pullman cars exemplify the luxury of a bygone era, with service and accommodations rivaling a -star hotel. An electric train known as the ‘GG-1’ that looks and feels like a submarine, a self-propelled railcar known as a Doodlebug and even a pre-World War I steam engine built for the Russian Railroad.

 

The Museum of the American Railway collection comes highly recommended. It was voted “Best Railroad Museum in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kansas and Missouri,” by Cowcatcher Train Magazine in 2012. The cars provide a glimpse of the past.

 

Passenger Cars

The collection starts with an old wooden passenger car Texland from the 1900s and moves forward to the posh Pullman cars of the 20s and 30s. The Texland was a business car with three staterooms, three baths, dining room, office and salon. It was rebuilt in 1910, again in 1925 and saw service until 1960 and came to the museum in 1966.

 

The Pullmans have heavy metal exteriors that are held together by rivets. Inside the cars feature beautiful wood finish with brass fixtures. There are examples of dining cars with kitchens, sleepers with in-room toilet facilities, mail cars and more.

 

Next comes the lighter stream-lined silver cars of the 1940s. The heavy metal is gone as is the riveting. Lighter cars allow for in fuel savings and keptthe first class interior. Other cars feature small sleepers with a shared bathroom. Bench seating becomes the norm.

 

Built by the Budd Company in 1950, the Amtrak Pine Ring was a sleeping car with 10 roomettes and six double bedrooms. It was retired in 1995 and came to the museum in 2005.

 

Freight cars

The freight cars also have evolved. The American Train Museum has cold storage cars dating back to pre-refrigeration days. The cars were loaded with ice blocks from the top and the dripping cold water kept meat fresh while traveling to Market.

 

There is an old, 1917 Lone Star Gas Company tank car on display. Ironically, the diesel engines would carry more fuel than the tank car.

 

You can even see the mechanical brakes where a brakeman had to move from car to car, running across the tops of the moving cars, stopping at each one to turn a steering-like wheel to slow down and eventually stop the train. Today air brakes and dynamic breaking have made stopping much easier.

 

Locomotives

The museum’s collection of engines is impressive, ranging from 100plus year old steam engines to modern day diesels, with a variety of designs and sizes in between.

 

The collection includes the Big Boy. A steam engine is 132 feet 9 and one quarter inches in length. The engine weighs 762,000 pounds and the tender weighs 427,500 pounds. Its drive wheels are 68 inches tall and could reach speeds of 80 miles per hour. Twenty-five were constructed between 1941 and 1944 for the Union and Pacific Railroad. The Big Boy was designed to haul freight over the Wasatch Mountains. Classified as a 4-8-8-4 it had a four-wheel leading truck for stability entering curves, two sets of eight driving wheels, and a four-wheel trailing truck to support the large firebox.

 

One of the unique engines in the collection is the Doodlebug. First introduced with a gasoline engine, it was designed to run as a one-car service to remote areas. The engine had a small area for freight and a small section for passengers. It allowed trains to service branch lines in an inexpensive manner. The Museum’s Doodlebug M-160 was built by the Brill Motorcar Company in 1931 for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. It operated between Amarillo, Texas and Carlsbad, New Mexico, and later between Wichita, Kansas and San Angelo, Texas. It was retired in 1966.

 

The GG-1 is another interesting locomotive. It is considered the most successful electrical engine designs of its time. It was designed by General Electric. The engineering team there had been working on submarines and could foresee the end of the World War II, downsizing and the possible loss of their jobs. So what can submarine designers build? It was decided that the electric technology could be used on trains. What emerged was a fast, powerful and very stream-lined engine, 79 feet 6 inches long, weighing 475,000 pounds. The GG-1 was the first locomotive to have a smooth surface held together by welds, not rivets, and it could reach speeds of 100 miles per hour. There were only 139 of these impressive machines made from1934 (before America had even entered the war!) to 1943. The last working GG-1 pulled its last car in 1983.

 

Museum Row

Currently the museum shares indoor space with the Frisco Heritage Museum. The Heritage Museum has a collection of printing presses, a collection of handmade quilts and displays items of early Americana.

 

The main collection of trains is a short walk from the museum. Tickets for the tour cost US $7. Tours are scheduled for Thursdays and Saturdays.

 

On the walk to the train tracks you pass the Children’s Interactive Museum and a new Video Game Museum where world championships take place. For more information and construction updates visit http://www.museumoftheamericanrailroad.org.