The advent of rail systems throughout the 19th century altered the trajectory of many countries, but few more than the nascent United States. And while North American transportation has largely moved away from trains in the time since, one group’s efforts to preserve the legacy of historic railways and cars birthed an Oklahoma City museum now home to over 50 antique cars with over 200 active members.
Visitors to the Oklahoma Railway Museum can explore vessels as small as a classic two-person hand-pump car and an 1880s Frisco Velocipede to those as large as the 80-seat Farmrail 5478 and the 160-foot long Santa Fe “Super Hopper.” There are steamers dating to the 1870s, sleepers from the 1940s, and diner cars that operated into the 1990s. Most on-site artifacts were either donated or declared surplus and bought at auction, from the cars themselves to rail-related trinkets adorning the “Baggage Room” to the 1905 Oakwood Depot that now houses the ticket office.
For those who like to experience trains while already inside of a train, there’s a model train layout housed in a Rock Island baggage car from 1927. And for those who prefer a little action, the museum offers train rides and an “At The Throttle” program, where visitors can drive the cars themselves with a valid driver’s license.
The robust museum you see today started out in 1970 as the humble Central Oklahoma Railfan Club, a group of train enthusiasts who didn’t just collect old equipment and artifacts (though they did do that), but were also active members of the railroad community, some even crewing trains for a living. The local outfit joined the National Railway Historical Society and continued amassing members through the 80s and 90s until plans for a museum began in earnest in 1997.
They procured a stretch of essentially abandoned railway between 16th and 36th street in Oklahoma City, restoring the track with volunteer help in exchange for permission to hold demonstrations of restored railcars. They secured a three-acre property along the restored line in 1999, developed a perimeter and necessary facilities, and opened the museum in 2000. Extending their track at either end in 2002 allowed them to amass a greater quantity of antique cars to restore and display.
Know Before You Go
The museum is open Thursday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with free admission for all, though special programs like “At The Throttle” and holiday events like their Halloween Train or Polar Express Ride incur a fee.