This illustration of the locomotive Novelty ran over the nameplate on the first issue of the American Rail-road Journal in 1832. It shows British design and engineering influence on U.S. railroading. The locomotive’s owners entered it in a competition sponsored by the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, but did not win the prize.
Whenever a photographer takes a railroad picture—no matter what the subject—that photographer becomes a railroad preservationist.
And, whenever a train enthusiast reflects on a railroad picture, “reading” it for information and insights, that enthusiast becomes a railroad preservationist.
Whenever a member of the general public sees a railroad image in print or on a big or little screen and makes a memory of it, that memory makes John Q. and Jane Q. Public railroad preservationists.
The word “preservation” generates responses from rail enthusiasts that range from “hip, hip, hooray” to “well, okay” to “why bother”—enthusiasm to indifference to animosity. But like it or not, if you like railroads and images of them, then you are behaving like a railroad preservationist. You believe that railroad equipment, infrastructure, physical and work environments, and the impact of all of these on American society are valuable. You believe railroads merit creation of a visual record of their existence over time. And you believe that pictures can help—indeed, may be an essential ingredient—in their preservation.
Preservation extends not only to equipment, infrastructure, and landscape, but to the nature of the work that made railroads and keeps them going. Pictures, especially moving images, are vital to that effort, since seeing how something got done is worth far more than a thousand words. “That can’t be done anymore” becomes “it can be done, and here’s how” when still and moving images are available. Preservation means preservation of work as well as the results of that work.
Preservation is an activity that helps ensure that you—a railroad enthusiast—will have the equipment and sights to see that help satisfy your craving for locomotives of all kinds, trains of all kinds, buildings of all kinds, and even jobs of all kinds. Preservation takes place everywhere, from the making of pictures, to museums, to small town historical societies, to classrooms in history and art, to lunch counter gabfests. Preservation is as “now” as steam excursion trains.
United States railroads began in 1795 with a small gravity line in Boston, Massachusetts, on Beacon Hill to make it easy to haul dirt from the excavation for the commonwealth’s new statehouse or capitol building (still standing, but no marker tells the railroad story). Ever since, railroads have captivated the public’s imagination, and soon preservation got underway. To illustrate and explain preservation, we have selected technical and historical landmarks—some of them widely heralded, and many almost ignored today—that explore the connections among art, photography, preservation, popular culture, and railroads.
Preservation reflects the diversity of railroads. It is marked particularly by the watershed year of 1960 when almost all steam ended. Then there were 106 class one railroads, meaning they had operating revenues of at least $3 million annually. Each had its own style of railroading, meaning individual “corporate cultures.” And each had its own ideas about the ideal design for a steam locomotive (the arguments about the ideal continue today). However, the railroads also shared some traits, without much argument. They used a standard gauge of 4 feet, 8½ inches. Narrow gauge railroads also shared gauges, either 3-feet-wide (most of them), or 2-feet wide (in Maine). Narrow-gauge railroads have drawn preservation attention far out of proportion to their numbers among railroad lines in the nation. Because of their unique operational and scenic qualities, they have had a wide impact on preservation, drawing thousands of tourists annually.
In some ways, railroad preservationists can be compared to the workers from an earlier era: hard-working, individualistic, dedicated to their task, with strong ideas about what is significant and what are the best preservation practices. Locally, preservationists often dismiss the “unrealistic” standards propagated by “perfessers.” Rather than taking their inspiration from a national movement, these preservationists derive their inspiration from local and regional traditions and often from highly personal sentiment.
For our Preservation in a Nutshell, we will post images as they become available on railroadheritage.org and provide a link for each to the texts that accompany the images. The North American Railway Foundation has provided support to turn this feature into a printed publication. We invite your suggestions.
“Preservation in a Nutshell” honors John H. White, Jr., a professor of history at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, who in 1990 retired from the Smithsonian Institution as its curator of transportation. His thirteen books (the fourteenth, forthcoming, is a history of travel in Victorian America) on early locomotives and passenger and freight cars and travel provide a taxonomy of type and a history of their development, one of the signal achievements in the written history of America’s industries. His many articles include, most recently, “Elisha Talbott and the Railway Age,” Chicago History (Winter 2010), and “Full Steam Ahead,” Hudson River Steamboats, Invention & Technology (Winter 2011). White has written articles for Railroad Heritage and helped the Center in many ways. Thank you, Jack!
1828: First Stone of the First Common Carrier, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad
On July 4, a heavily symbolic date in the U.S. and railroad history, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, laid the first stone of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in Baltimore. The stone was moved in 1992 to the B&O Railroad Museum, a mile east, and a historical marker was erected at the original site.
1832: Railroad Journalism’s Beginnings
Railroad journalism began with American Rail-road Journal. In 1849, Henry Varnum Poor (1812-1905) became its manager and editor. In 1860 he published the History of Railroads and Canals in the United States to provide information about the financial and operational state of U.S. railroad companies. He later established H. V. and H. W. Poor Co. with his son, Henry William. The financial rating company Standard & Poor’s traces its origins to this publication.
1856: First Windup Toy Train
George W. Brown, a clockmaker in Forestville, Connecticut, made the first windup toy train. Another firm, Ives, Blakeslee, & Williams, soon built a great variety of toy trains which have remained a childhood staple ever since and have inspired many youngsters to become rail enthusiasts. Actual trains are among the giant machines that fascinate preschoolers and kindergarteners.
1862: Beginnings of Commercial Photography of Railroads
James Fitzallen Ryder, a Cleveland professional photographer, accepted an assignment (likely the first for any U.S. railroad) from the Atlantic & Great Western Railway to extensively photograph recent construction and completed sections of its Meadville, Pennsylvania, line. While earlier U.S. railroad photographs exist, the introduction of wet-plate photography in 1860 relatively simplified outdoor photography, giving the A&GW a chance to use imaages as a means of convincing British investors to bankroll this 6-foot-gauge line with hopes of completing a continent-straddling, broad-gauge railroad.
1868: Advent of Railroad Timetables
Rand McNally of Chiago began printing tickets and timetables for the railroad industry, and in 1869 supplemented that business by publishing complete railroad guides to aid travelers and businesses. Early examples of these ephemeral publications have made their way into museums, public libraries, and private collections around the country.
1869: Mount Washington Cog Railway
Mount Washington cog railway, the world’s first mountain climbing cog (rack-and-pinion) railway, opened in New Hampshire. The railway still exists and in 2007 installed solar-powered track switches. In 2008, it operated its first biodiesel locomotive, relinquishing part of its steam operation.
1869: Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad
The Golden Spike ceremony at Promontory, Utah, on May 10 celebrated the completion of the transcontinental railroad, witnessed by the multi-racial crews that had built it. The Galveston News (June 4, 1869) said: “The artist of the Union Pacific Railroad photographed this scene–a locomotive flanked by Chinese on one side and a locomotive flanked by Caucasians on the other, taking in some of the accessories–the meeting of America, China, and Europe in the midst of the vast and fruitful desert which is hereafter to be filled with busy multitudes and with all the evidence of human progress and power.” Photographers, working for the two railroads, recorded the construction and completion. Their views were the first large-scale documentation of a railroad project. For U.S. economic history, the completion launched national marketing and distributing systems. The National Park Service created Golden Spike National Historic Site in 1965 at Promontory as the completion’s centennial approached. The Central Pacific Photographic History Museum, an Internet site, tells the transcontinental railroad story.
1872: Railroads’ Ties to National Parks
Railroads and conservationists teamed up to encourage the U.S. government to set aside lands for national parks. Yellowstone was first in 1872, promoted by the Northern Pacific. The Southern Pacific and John Muir cooperated to promote Yosemite as a park, established in 1890.
1876: Railroads, World’s Fairs, and Public Relations
The railroad industry, still growing, exploited its past for public relations purposes at the 1876 International Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia. Ever since, world’s fairs continued to feature railroad equipment and exhibits, especially: Chicago, World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893; St. Louis, Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 1904; San Francisco, Panama Pacific International Exposition, 1915; Chicago, Century of Progress, 1933-34; New York, Building the World of Tomorrow, 1939; Seattle, Century 21, 1962; and New York, Peace Through Understanding, 1964. In 1934, the BurlingtonZephyr‘s dawn-to-dusk run from Denver to Chicago, ending on the stage at Chicago, was a sensation for its speed and streamlined design.
1880: Why Our Train? Because it’s Historic!
Joseph G. Pangborn (1844-1914), the P. T. Barnum of railroading, became advertising agent for the Baltimore & Ohio, promoting “history” as a reason to travel on its longer, slower route than the routes of other lines. He assembled for the B&O the largest display at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in 1893, moving much of it to St. Louis for the 1904 fair. Pangborn told a good story but was not always historically accurate, creating factual snarls for future generations, explained John H. White Jr., retired Smithsonian curator. Today, the core of Pangborn’s world’s fair collection is at the B&O Museum in Baltimore.
1881: Fine, Designed China for Dining Cars
Hotel World magazine described china used in Pullman’s Chicago-area company town: “The tableware is of the finest quality, all the crockery being the Indian Tree pattern.” Pullman used the stock pattern, customized with the name Pullman on the top surface, until it ended buffet-sleeper service in 1968. Over the years, railroads developed many individual designs, such as Olive Dennis’s Centenary Series for the B&O, 1927; the Santa Fe’s California Poppy series, 1890s to 1971; or the French Quarter plates for the IC’s Panama Limited, 1920s and 1930s. Some designs received patents, such as Augustus J. Koch’s for New York Central, 1925; and Dennis’s, 1927. Today, dining car china is a highly sought collectible.
1883: Labor Movement Beginnings
As part of the burgeoning labor movement in the U.S. and among railroaders, eight brakemen founded the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, largest of the modern United Transportation Union’s predecessors, at Oneonta, New York. They met in caboose No. 10, now on display at a park in Oneonta. The movement helped secure shorter work weeks and safer working conditions.
1884: First Locomotive at Smithsonian
The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., began recognizing technology’s importance when it accepted from the Pennsylvania Railroad the locomotive John Bull. The railroad also paid, for the first year, the wages of the Institution’s first curator of engineering, J. Elfreth Watkins (1852-1903). The John Bull first operated in 1833 on the Camden & Amboy, a PRR predecessor. The donation started the preservation of a series of “first” locomotives (listed here with construction date):Pioneer, between 1835 and 1845, Galena & Chicago Union, Chicago History Museum; Milwaukee & Mississippi No. 73, 1857, later El Paso & Southwestern No.1, Union Plaza Transit Terminal, El Paso; Central Pacific Railroad No. 1, Gov. Stanford, 1862, California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento; Southern Pacific No. 1, C. P. Huntington, 1863, CSRM; St. Paul & Pacific No. 1, William Crooks, 1861, Lake Superior Transportation Museum, Duluth; and Northern Pacific No. 1,Minnetonka, 1870, LSTM.
1888: Beginning of Amateur Railroad Photography
While modern photography in the form of the daguerreotype and paper prints traces its roots to 1839 in Europe and the United States, technical complexities restricted the making of photographs to professionals until George Eastman introduced he “Kodak” to the public in 1888. At first those who bought the 100-exposure cameras sent them to Eastman for processing, then received prints and a film-reloaded camera in return. The images were circular, or 2-1/2 inches in diameter. Then came improvements that enabled amateurs to make their own prints; square and rectangular images soon proliferated. Expensive at first, cameras for amateurs soon became relatively affordable, and train lovers and travelers everywhere photographed railroads (a boon to preservationists) as well as their families.
1890: Proliferation of Special Purpose Passenger Cars
Special purpose cars came into use in the late nineteenth century and continued in use into the 1940s. Notable among them were chapel cars, built and outfitted for the Episcopal, Baptist and Roman Catholic churches in America, the first being built for the Episcopalians in 1890 and called the Cathedral Car of North Dakota, Church of the Advent. The Northwest Railway Museum at Snoqualmie, Washington, owns and is restoring Messenger of Peace, built for the American Baptist Publication Society in 1898; another ABPS car is Grace, built in 1915 and in service until 1946, now on the grounds of the American Baptist Assembly, Green Lake, Wisconsin. Other special purpose cars included fish cars that took fingerlings from fish hatcheries to lakes, educational cars of all sorts, photo cars, and more.
1891: University Courses in Railroad Engineering
By this year, institutions of higher education had begun embracing railroad engineering. For example, the University of Wisconsin hired a railway engineering professor in 1891, though it had had a steam engineering professor earlier. He was Nelson O. Whitney (1858-1901), formerly an assistant engineer of the Pennsylvania Railroad in Chicago. Also in 1891, Purdue University built a locomotive test plant and began preserving locomotives and an interurban car to aid in its teaching (these become part of the collection of the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis in 1951). The University of Illinois built a locomotive test plant in 1913.
1892: Santa Fe Fosters Railroad Art
The Santa Fe Railway commissioned Thomas Moran (1837-1926) to paint scenes at the Grand Canyon to promote travel, establishing the railway as a leader in corporate art collecting. Later, in 1899, William Henry Jackson traveled in a photo car on the Santa Fe, recording its route on film. In this era, railroads promoted tourism, a role now assumed by state and community organizations.
1893: World’s Columbian Exposition and Women Engineers
The displays at the 1893 Columbian Exposition included not only the locomotive John Bull (which came from Jersey City under its own power) but photographs by William Rau for the Pennsylvania Railroad and William Henry Jackson for the Baltimore and Ohio. The photographs proved to the astute the importance of images in historical explication and for preservation. Ida Hewitt Jones (1861-1953) from West Virginia, known as the first woman locomotive engineer, operated the first train on opening day of the exposition.
1894: I’ve Been Working on the Railroad and Railroad Songs
Although folk musicians had composed railroad songs earlier, none has been as popular as I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, which appeared as the Levee Song in 1894. Railroad tragedies added to the song list: engineer Casey Jones’s death at Vaughn, Mississippi, 1900, a real-life tragedy, resulted in the so-called “comedy song,” Casey Jones: the Brave Engineer. Another song, the Wreck of the Old 97, is based on a 1903 accident near Danville, Virginia.
1900: Electric Toy Trains and Children’s Books
Joshua Lionel Cohen (1877-1965) founded Lionel Manufacturing Co. in New York City. Cohen’s first train, the Electric Express, was made as an eye-catching display for toy stores, not as a toy itself. American Flyer and Louis Marx & Company trains soon followed. Train stories for children also were popular, notably The Little Engine That Could of 1930 with illustrations by Lois Lenski. The text is attributed to “Watty Piper,” a pseudonym created by the publishing house Platt & Munk for its edition of the book originally entitled The Pony Engine and written by Mabel C. Bragg.
1903: Railroads in the Movies
Railroads were introduced to silent film audiences with The Great Train Robbery of 1903. When sound was added, trains were among the first “stars” that “spoke” on sound stages. Sierra Railway No. 3 (today preserved in operating condition at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, California) starred in the 1929 production of The Virginian, a significant early “talkie.” Along came more films such as North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train, and Murder on the Orient Express—all household names in the last two-thirds of the twentieth century. The prevalence of railroad scenes in movies, especially railroads in metropolises, has quickened knowledge of railroads around the country and aided preservation efforts.
1904: Special “Farm Trains” and Educational Tours
Iowa State College and two railroads sponsored “Seed Corn Gospel Trains,” the first to carry agricultural extension to farmers across any state. The railroads benefited from farmers’ growing of more and improved crops that had to be shipped by rail. Although extension fieldwork started earlier, these were the first true educational trains. Their popularity spread across the country, reaching such locations as Erath, Louisiana, on the Southern Pacific. By 1911, 71 trains operated in 21 states, attracting more than 995,000 visitors. Railroads also benefited by selling federal and state land-grant acreage formerly believed impossible to farm. The “Cow, Sow, and Hen” trains, as they were called in Kansas, proved that poor acreage often could be farmed. Some railroads also created demonstration farms as sales aids.
1907: Railroad Picture Postcards
U.S. Post Office eased regulations for postcards, and picture postcard publishers took advantager, issuing cards that frequently featured railroad stations and trains. William Henry Jackson at the Detroit Publishing Co. added to the proliferation with his classic railroad scenes. The true postcard craze lasted until World War I, but picture postcards continue to be popular, both as a form of communication and as a collectible field.
1921: Union Pacific’s Museum and Archive
The Union Pacific Railroad established its Omaha museum and archive, now one of the oldest corporate collections in the nation. The museum moved to the former Carnegie Library in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and formally reopened there on May 10, 2003, the 134th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
1921: Railroad Enthusiast Organizations
The Railway & Locomotive Historical Society organized, followed by the National Railway Historical Society and the National Model Railroad Association, both in 1935. The Railroadians of America, formed in 1939, merged into the New Jersey Midland Railroad Historical Society in 1996. The San Diego (California) Model Railroad Museum has become the only railroad-themed museum in the U.S. that the American Association of Museums has accredited.
1927: Fair of the Iron Horse
Baltimore & Ohio staged its Fair of the Iron Horse near Baltimore, commemorating the centennial of its charter. The B&O invited the railroad industry as a whole to join in the lavish outdoor festival. Olive Dennis, the first woman civil engineer on any U.S. railroad, played a major organizational role, designing commemorative B&O china and costumes for reenactors among other duties.
1935: First Federal Preservation Act
The U.S. government made preservation an official national goal with passage of the National Historic Sites Act of 1935. The act established the National Historic Landmarks program. The first railroad nominations were in Pennsylvania: East Broad Top Railroad, 1964, and Horseshoe Curve, 1966.
1937: Preservation of Locomotives by Individuals
Frank Ramsdell and William Monypeny purchase WW&F No. 9 from the two-foot-gauge Maine railroad abandoned in 1933 and move the locomotive to a shed on Ramsdell’s farm in Connecticut. No. 9 is now back in Maine, being restored to operation. This begins a series of locomotive preservation moves by individuals such as Ellis D. Atwood, Edaville Railroad; Nelson Blount, Steamtown; Paul Merriman, Southern 4501; Dick Jensen, Grand Trunk Western 5629, CB&Q 4-8-4 no. 5632, and CB&Q 2-8-2 no. 4963; Dan Markoff, Eureka; and Jerry Joe Jacobson, Age of Steam roundhouse.
1939: Preservation of Electric Railways
Preservation of electric railways began with the founding of the Seashore Trolley Museum, Kennebunkport, Maine, with one open trolley car, No. 31 from the Biddeford & Saco Railroad Company. The Connecticut Trolley Museum followed in 1940. Others now include Branford Electric Railway Association, East Haven, Connecticut, 1945; Illinois Railway Museum, Union; Orange Empire, Paris, California; Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, Washington, Pennsylvania; Western Railway Museum, Rio Vista Junction, California, 1946; National Capital Trolley Museum, Colesville, Maryland, 1959; Minnesota Transportation (later Streetcar) Museum, Minneapolis, 1971; and New York Transit Museum, New York City, 1976.
1940: Rail Enthusiast Magazines
A(lbert) C(arpenter) Kalmbach (1910-81) published the first issue of Trains magazine. Earlier magazines for enthusiasts date from Railroad Man’s Stories of 1906, which evolved into today’s Railfan & Railroad. Railroad preservationists had their own magazine, Locomotive & Railway Preservation, from 1986 to 1997.
1942: Telling the Nation’s Railroad Story and Its Diversity
Photographer Jack Delano, on assignment for the U.S. Office of War Information during World War II, captured the story of the indusry, its importance, and its gender, racial, and ethnic diversity. No similar project has been undertaken before or since.
1948-1949: Chicago Railroad Fair
The Chicago Railroad Fair, initially conceived to mark the centennial of railroading in Chicago, became a two-year national celebration in recognition of Chicago’s position as the railroad center of the U.S.
1957: First Production Diesel to Museum
A 300 hp boxcab locomotive, the first production diesel-electric in North America built by General Electric, Ingersoll Rand, and Alco, is retired to the B&O Railroad Museum, Baltimore. In the summer of 1925, the Central Railroad of New Jersey bought the first boxcab demonstrator, CNJ 1000, which had switched at the Bronx Terminal Yard for three decades. B&O 1, the second engine built, had an equally long career in Manhattan and is preserved today at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis.
1960: End of Mainline Steam and Escalation of Preservation
As mainline steam ended as part of regular service on the nation’s railroads, efforts intensified to preserve artifacts and equipment from steam-era railroading. Hundreds of locomotives and cabooses went on display in parks and at local museums across the country. As of 2010, some 1,900 steam locomotives alone existed across North America.
Steam-era shops became prime spaces for museums. In 1977, Southern donated land at Spencer, North Carolina, formerly a steam locomotive repair shop, for the North Carolina Transportation Museum. Two structures at the Central Pacific’s 1869 shops in Sacramento, at one time the largest industrial complex west of the Mississippi River, now are leased to the California State Railroad Museum.
Some steam equipment still operates. Union Pacific kept its last steam locomotive, no. 844, on its roster. Canadian Pacific returned locomotive 2816 to service in 2001 as a part of the railroad’s Community Connect program. Some nonprofits run steam programs. For example, there are Southern Pacific Daylight locomotive 4449, which came out of a park in Portland, Oregon, initially to pull the 1976 bicentennial train; Milwaukee Road 261, now in Minneapolis and operated from 1993 to 2008; and Nickel Plate 765, at the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Historical Society, returned to service in 2009.
Private and public museums and tourist trains, too, sprang up: Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society, North Freedom, Wisconsin, 1959; Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, Chattanooga, Tennessee, 1959; Northwest Railway Museum, Snoqualmie, Washington, 1971; Museum of the American Railroad, Dallas, Texas; and many others. The Strasburg Rail Road, a shortline incorporated in 1832, turned into a tourist line in 1958.
Among the most significant historic operating museums, all listed as National Landmarks or on the National Register, are the East Broad Top, Rock Hill Furnace, Pennsylvania, whose owners sold it for scrap in 1956 and whose buyer saved it and started tourist operations in 1960; Cumbres & Toltec Scenic, Chama, New Mexico; and Nevada Northern, Ely, Nevada. The train with the most riders is the White Pass & Yukon, Skagway, Alaska. Some museums came much later, such as the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington at Altna, Maine, organized in 1989. It is rebuilding a portion of a 2-foot gauge railroad on its original right of way.
While some railroad photographers abandoned railroad photography when steam ended, others continued their creative work. Classic Trains published a fifty-year commemorative issue in 2010. And David Plowden, the country’s best-known railroad photographer, prepared a retrospective, Requiem for Steam: The Railroad Photographs of David Plowden (2010).
1960s: Unused Stations and Civic Reuses
As railroads closed stations and other buildings around the country, they often made them available for civic uses. In many communities all across the U.S. these buildings have been turned into museums, libraries, businesses, and more. They help Americans remember the role that railroads played in building the nation.
1961: Canadian Railway Historical Association’s Exporail
The Canadian Railroad Historical Association created Exprorail, a museum at Saint-Constant, Québec. The National Museums of Canada recognized it in 1978 as the nation’s specialized museum dedicated to Canadian railway history. Exporail owns the largest collection of railway equipment in Canada. In 1958, British Columbia enthusiasts formed the West Coast Railway Association, which has the country’s second largest railroad holdings.
1961: Southern Railway Steam Locomotive at Smithsonian
The Southern Railway’s steam locomotive 1401, built in 1926, was moved (part of the way on Constitution Avenue) to a new building at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. In 2003, the Smithsonian installed a new transportation exhibit, America on the Move, and made 1401 a centerpiece. It was a fast passenger locomotive, painted green and gold, and had served passengers traveling to and from the U.S. capital. Notably, it pulled President Franklin Roosevelt’s funeral train in 1945 from Warm Springs, Georgia, to Washington, D.C.
1963: Razing of New York’s Pennsylvania Station, a Preservation Catalyst
The destruction of Pennsylvania Station in New York City catalyzed the nation’s preservation movement in general and led, ultimately, to the restoration of Grand Central Terminal, whose completion was celebrated in 1998. Specifically, it led New York City to create a landmarks commission in 1965, which in turn saved Grand Central Terminal by winning the case,Penn Central Transportation Co. vs. New York City Many credit thre loss of Penn Station for he resurgance of preservation nationally.
1966: National Historic Preservation Act
President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Historic Preservation Act, which incorporated the earlier National Historic Landmarks program and created the National Register of Historic Places as a function of the U.S. Department of the Interior. As of 2008, nearly every element of railroad infrastructure, individually or collectively, was listed on the Register: 1,500 stations or depots, 525 properties in historic districts, 12 roundhouses, 4 enginehouses, 12 hotels, and 395 engineering features such as bridges and tunnels. In addition, 19 railroad corridors were on the Register, as were some 60 locomotives. In the last few decades, federal transportation enhancement funds (ISTEA, TEA-21, and SAFETEA LU) not only allowed the funds to be used for railroad and preservation projects, but required that a certain percentage of project funds be used for programs such as preservation activities.
1970: States and Preservation
As mandated by the 1966 act, states established preservation offices. Colorado and New Mexico bought the Chama-to-Antonito section of the Denver & Rio Grande Western’s narrow gauge line, today operated as the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic. D&RGW sold its Durango-to-Silverton Branch in 1981 and today it is operated by American Heritage Railways. Earlier, in 1961, West Virginia set up the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. The Texas State Railroad was conveyed to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1972.
1971: Mechanical Engineering Landmarks Program
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers established its mechanical engineering landmarks program. 0f nearly 250 landmarks designated since the program began in 1971, thirty-one are rail related.
1980: Women and the American Railroad
Shirley Burman, a writer and photographer in Sacramento, started her women-in-railroading project. As a freelance photographer for the railroad industry, beginning in 1983, she photographed women at work and interviewed them, met with retirees, collected stories, purchased artifacts, and gathered materials from archives across the country. Her collection of railroad women’s memorabilia, oral and written histories, photographs, and research data is the largest in the U.S. devoted to the subject.
1981: California Railfair
The California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento celebrated the opening of its Museum of Railroad History with Railfair Sacramento 1981. Railfair ’91 commemorated the tenth anniversary. Railfair ’99, which coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Golden State, was “The Last Great Rail Event of the Millennium.” CSRM has become the most visited railroad museum in the U.S. An exhibit reinstallation in 2005 recognized railroad workers including Luis Estrada, a Mexican-American trackman for the Southern Pacific for thirty-five years. Other major museums include the B&O Museum in Baltimore, established in 1953, and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Strasburg, 1975.
1985: Steamtown at Scranton
Steamtown, a private collection, was moved from Vermont to Scranton, Pennsylvania. The U.S Congress established Steamtown National Historic Site on October 30, 1986. It opened to the public in 1995.
1995: Boiler Failure and Safety Regulations
The firebox crownsheet of steam locomotive no. 1278 failed on a tourist train, resulting in instantaneous release of steam through the firebox door and into the locomotive cab, seriously burning the engineer and two firemen. Based on the accident, an Engineering Standards Committee for Steam Locomotives (founded in 1990, later a task group of the National Board of Boiler Inspectors) recommended revised safety standards to the Federal Railroad Administration.
1995: Recogniton of Railroad Workers Surges
Recognition of workers’ contributions to the construction, growth, and quality of all aspects of railroading achieved more momentum, especially for African Americans. In 1995, Lyn Hughes, current director, established the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum in Chicago, named for the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Randolph (1889-1979) who also organized Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1963 and was a lifelong civil rights advocate. The Center for Railroad Photography & Art with support from the North American Railway Foundation introduced its “Representations of Railroad Work” exhibitions in 2004, celebrating all workers of all genders and ethnicities.
1999: “All-Aboard” Series of Postage Stamps
The U.S. Postal Service issued an “all-aboard” series of stamps showing five streamlined locomotives as painted by Ted Rose in watercolor. The first U.S. postage stamp depicting a train dates from 1869, demonstrating the railroad’s key role in American life.
2004: O. Winston Link Museum
The O. Winston Link Museum, Roanoke, Virginia, opened in his honor. Link (1914-2001) was a photographer whose iconic images captured the last days of steam operation from 1955 to 1960 on the Norfolk & Western Railway. They became a part of the history of not only railroad photography but of America’s photographic history in general.
2007: Norfolk Southern’s Best Friend of Charleston Replica
The Norfolk Southern reconnected with its heritage by displaying a replica of the Best Friend of Charleston locomotive as a part of an exhibit at its David R. Goode office building in Atlanta. Southern, a predecessor company of NS, built the replica at its Birmingham Shops in 1928. The original Best Friend initiated scheduled railroad passenger service in the United States on Christmas Day 1830 and was destroyed six months later by a boiler explosion.
2008: Chinese Steam Locomotives and Record Freight Train in Iowa
Iowa Interstate Railroad’s double-headed freight train from Iowa City to Rock Island set a “record for steam-hauled revenue tonnage in the 21st century,” carrying 6,252 tons in 65 cars. The locomotives, built in China, remain in service in the U.S. for special events.
2009: Train Festival at Owosso, Michigan
The Leviathan, a replica of the Jupiter, the Central Pacific’s locomotive at the golden spike ceremony in 1869, made its first public appearance at Train Festival 2009 at Owosso, Michigan. The event featured eight operating steam locomotives. More than 36,000 people turned out for the four-day festival to see the locomotives and exhibits.
2010: Streamlined McKeen Car Returned to Service
Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City returned an early example of aerodynamic design, the McKeen motorcar, to service. This forward thinking design forecasted streamlined trains that appeared generation later. The car had operated as Virginia & Truckee no. 22 from 1910 to 1945. The museum acquired the car in 1996, started restoration a year later. Inspired by developments in Europe, fully streamlined trains debuted in America in 1934. The best surviving streamliner is Burlington’s stainless-steel Pioneer Zephyr, now displayed in the parking garage at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago .
2010: “21st Century Steam,” Locomotive Excursion Program
Norfolk Southern Corporation reached agreement with the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum at Chattanooga for operation of a limited schedule of steam locomotive appearances and passenger excursions to be called 21st Century Steam. “This is the right time for steam to ride the Norfolk Southern rails,” said CEO Wick Moorman. “We have a fascinating history, and we have a compelling message about how today’s railroads support jobs, competition, and the economy. It is a forward-looking message that resonates with people everywhere.”