A Great Place for American History is a Train Museum

A trip through through a prolific past, one responsible for legendary tales, is what the National Railroad Museum is all about. Fixed on the west side of Green Bay, this fun place spotlights vehicles responsible for American prosperity and growth. It might be a bit pricey, but a look at the enormous UP Big Boy, or stories of African-American labor plights, or even the Eisenhower headquarters brings to light many different aspects of American history-and trains were there to witness it all.

I’ve visited this museum two years ago, and I’ve blogged about it. I visited again, and will blog once more. What brought me back? I guess the fact that things change, and I really didn’t feel like venturing from Green Bay. When all was said and done, I discovered the museum hadn’t morphed, or renovated in any way. The one noticeable difference, which was a huge delight, was the rail sign expo. It wasn’t large, but I was enthralled all the same.

So on with my travels through the National Railroad Museum....

It’s a blustery day in early march, and there’s not much on my docket. My body aches, so I’ll skip today’s workout. Instead, I’ll focus on something more mentally stimulating and taxing. I do have this habit; I think it’s a fairly productive habit. I love visiting someplace, writing about it and sharing it with others. And with limited funds and resources, a trip to the National Railroad Museum seems a perfect excursion for this cool pre-spring day.

I walk in, and this place is almost exactly how I remembered it. A giant lobby yields to a giftshop and admissions desk. Off to my right, a fairly large theatre is playing a film.

The hour long movie is about the featured exhibit: the UP Big Boy. I believe it was the largest engine in the world, something like that. Well, whatever, the thing is ginormous. Its coal chambers are probably larger than some steam engines…..Yeah, I know, you get it, it’s big.

I pay my eleven dollars, receive a wristband and head towards Fuller Hall. This area, and practically only this area, is the one thing different about the museum. Actually, there are other minor changes, the additions of train cars and the like, but this one is the most noticeable alteration. But it’s welcome. I believe the last time I was here, this expo space housed passenger train china. This time around, the space holds lights, signs and flags that kept people safe. Its so much more interesting than old dishes.

It also tells a story. With change, any change, there comes regulations. And I know how conservatives feel about the word regulations. Like it or not, it’s a necessary reality…I’m not condoning overregulating, but keeping people safe in light of technological change is legit. That’s what these signs, lamps, lights and flags did. Mainly, most of these instruments let people know that there was a train-track present, and others, when technology or manpower would allow, indicated an engine’s imminent passage.

I saunter about, reading placards, contemplating yesteryear’s cutting edge technologies and imagining these obsolete innovations during their heyday.

After I take in the inspiring sights and stories, I notice a model train along the wall. I don’t know it yet, but the real thing lies in the outdoor McCormick Train Pavilion. It was known as an Aero Train and had been built by General Motors. Intended to rival the popularity of automobiles, the trains failed because they provided a very bumpy ride.

I meander through the Baur Drumhead Gallery. This area hasn’t really changed. Mostly, it’s a collection of drumheads, which would have been displayed on the train’s caboose. Older ones were hand painted glass, later versions printed plastic. They would identify the train’s rail company.

I’m about to enter the real big area known as the Lenfestey Center, surmising some interesting railroad artifacts along the way.

As I enter this large expanse, I see some authentic engines and cars meticulously restored. They’re true Museum pieces.

I see Eisenhower’s train, the one he used on the European Front.

Of course, there’s the aforementioned Union Pacific Big Boy standing proudly in the center.

Off to the right, lies a rather old passenger car. Although the car, which appears as a rather mundane piece, may not ooh and ahh, its history, especially its labor issues, is symbolic of the age old racial struggle in the USA.

The placards before the train bear testimony of the Pullman Porter. The porters, all expected to answer to the name George, because George Pullman was the owner of the Pullman Rail Company, assembled the first African-American labor union.

I spend some time perusing, but no one is allowed inside the cars right now. So, I’m left looking through windows.

When I’m done scanning the contents of this big barn, I make it out to the McCormick Train Pavilion.

These engines and cars definitely show their wear and tear, but they’re still cool. I also check out the outdoor displays.

After I’m done, I have to say, it’s still cool to see these early instruments of travel. Hell, trains are still primary modes of transportation for many people. And freight trains run the rails of the US daily. As I write this, a train whistle blows into the chilly night air. I smile, they might not be the game changers of yesteryear, but they’re vital. And where they’ve come from to where they’re going is an interesting bit of trivia. Highspeed rail, engines with serious horse power and tours of country sides make these longstanding vehicles relevant today. The vehicle that changed the world, is in turn changing because of the world.

Safe Travels!

3 responses to “A Great Place for American History is a Train Museum”

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