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Railroad Museums: A Glimpse into American History

Railroad museums are prestigious tokens in American culture. They are meant to preserve and study the history of railroads and everything railway related.

The railway in America is a national treasure. The railway represents achievement, technology, hard labor, and dreams coming true. Railroads are a symbol of hope, prosperity, and pride. The United States completed their Transcontinental Railroad when they linked the Pacific Railroad with the Union Railroad in May of 1869. The railroad took the name the Pacific Railroad to celebrate that the railway that started on the Atlantic coast in the east had been built all the way to the Pacific Ocean in the west. Canada followed soon after when they drove the last Spike into their Transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railroad in November of 1885.

The completion of these railroads were considered two of the biggest industrial and technological feats of the nineteenth century for both countries. It used to take months to cross the country on horseback or covered wagon. Now families, food, supplies, even cattle, could cross the country in a matter of days on train. The completion of the railroads expedited the settlement of the west.

Not all railways were built to cross the country. Some trains have short lines and were meant the men from town to the mines were they spent their days working way down in the ground digging up coal, or silver. Some trains were meant to carry the post. Trains began carrying cattle, furniture, even travelling circuses! A town's success and prospects could surely be determined by whether or not the train stopped there.

Railroad museums offer a glimpse into this Romantic era. They showcase different types of trains and the evolution of different models. There are often train cars or model replicas to climb on and sit in. They show artifacts, spikes, tools, diaries, and historical documents. Photographs depict the arrival of settlers, the building of homes. The photos show the people, their clothes, their tools, their smiles, and their tears. Each town and every train has their own stories. Railroad museums offer more than just railroad history, they depict the history of whole towns and the people in them.

Some of these railroads still have trains that run. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Durango, Colorado, for example, still runs daily to Silverton and back in the summer months. The train used to take miners from the town of Durango into the San Juan Mountains to mine for Silver. Now the train operates several times a day taking tourists and locals alike, up the winding Animas River into the mountains on a four hour breathtaking beautiful train ride. The museum at the station in Durango depicts not only the history of the the Railroad but of the history of the entire towns, Durango and Silverton.

There are 324 railroad museums in North America. A simple google search will help you locate one near you. Not all museums have operating trains.

These historical museums are owned and operated by various enterprises. Some are owned privately by a sole proprietor, or a family, or a partnership of two individuals or families. Some are run by the town or city. Some by non-profit organizations that rely on the government grants, membership fees, and admissions to keep the museums running. The few that still have operational train rides are the most profitable. Train museums offer the standard employment most organizations have: Information, food vending, events and planning, and custodial. There are historical research and curating positions. Museums that have operational trains would have train conductors, engineers, dispatch, maintenance. All of these areas have supervision, management, and administrative positions. A career at at train museum is a likely possibility for someone interested in the majestic history of the railway. There are many areas of experience to choose from.

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