RAIL MUSEUM OF PENNSYLVANIA, PA| Sharon Henry
Steamtown National Historic Site aka Scranton Train Museum PA is a must for rail enthusiasts and people who’d enjoy a steam train experience with steam train rides in PA.
On our visit we discovered that a turntable station isn’t just for DJ’s, locomotive train operators use them too. Not to spin records, but to rotate a train engine from one direction to another. Of course a train turntable is totally different to the music variety but they share the concept of rotation.
The locomotive turntable is quite a fascinating contraption and even me, a girl, got excited to see one in action at the Scranton railroad museum.
Railroad Museum For Steam Trains
Let’s set the scene. We googled things to do in Scranton PA; a stopover on our USA road trip. And ended up strolling around the Steamtown National Historic Site, a locomotive and train history museum. Steamtown has a large collection of steam trains, freight and passenger cars, which are used to tell the story of America’s steam railway and their importance in the country’s development. It’s full of steam train facts, personal accounts and anecdotes. They also do steam train trips.
Scranton The Electric City
Scranton PA is also known for pioneering the electric trolley streetcar system in 1886, one of America’s first. The Electric City Trolley museum is right next door to the steam train history museum.
Click below to watch our video of the Scranton railroad train and locomotive turntable in action. (YouTube, 2m23s)
The locomotive turntable is the centrepiece of the Scranton Train museum; a large circular cut-out with a 90 foot, rail track across the middle. Feeding onto it, like spokes of a large wheel are multiple train tracks. Because stream trains were mostly limited to forward motion, the turntable was invented as a method of rotating them to allow return journeys.
Steamtown National Historic Site
When diesel locomotives came on the scene with reverse capabilities, the steam train and roundhouse turntable were slowly phased out and eventually rendered obsolete. Except, of course, a certain few that have been restored for museums like the Steamtown Historic Site.
We luckily timed our visit for a railroad turntable demonstration and watched a diesel train (which could easily be a friend of Thomas the Tank Engine) be spun 45 degrees onto the complex’s rail tracks ready for one of the Steamtown train rides on the preserved railway. The whole process took all of ten minutes. A pretty neat trick.
Nostalgic Train History Museum
The Steamtown museum is full of interesting artefacts coupled with documented firsthand accounts by the very people who built, worked and travelled the steam railway. Their words, voices and images, like ghosts, convey snapshots of the steam railroads era, from early 1800s to mid 1900s.
Armies of immigrant men, seeking fortunes in a new land were hired to lay tracks across the country. Work was gruelling but plentiful. In 1852 around 9,000 miles had been laid; by the end of WWI in 1918 the network had expanded to more than 254,000 miles.
Steamtown – American History Museum
An extract inside the Steamtown museum struck a chord with me, written by Erick Sonnichsen from ‘I Was Workin’ On The Railroad,’ American Mercury, June 1930. “We worked with picks, raising the tracks and tamping stones beneath the ties. It was back-breaking work. After twenty minutes I had to stand up to stretch… My back was stiff. Blisters were on my hands. Worst of all was the hunger gnawing at my stomach, which seemed to have shrunk to nothing.” This snippet really painted a picture.
We walked through the complex and sat inside trains and carriages feeling a sense of the travel conditions in the days of the heritage railway, be it by luxurious business class or through hitching a free ride amongst storage boxes in a freight car.
Steam Train Journeys – Hobos & Graffiti
The Scranton Train Museum has umpteen stories. I particularly liked those of the travelling hobos who communicated through graffiti messages left on fences or walls. They informed each other of useful titbits like, a kind lady lives here, or bible talk will get you a free meal there or simply, beware of dog.
It’s the kind of travel stories that ‘Freight Train Eddie‘ a busker we met in Nashville could probably tell.
Poignant stories also came from the Railroad Post Office mail clerks. From 1864 to 1977 mail was sorted by hand on trains for distribution to local post offices up and down the country. Seated inside those mail carts we watched videos of postal workers’ speaking nostalgically of the skills required, including geographical knowledge and the ability to decipher handwriting. Most evident was the camaraderie amongst the postal teams.
The Scranton Train Museum – Big Toys For Boys
Stiff competition from motor vehicles and airplanes pretty much marked the end of the line for train travel in the USA. People preferred other modes of transport.
The Steamtown National Historic Site is a 40 acres, and opened in 1986 on the site of the former Scranton yard of Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. It’s main collection of steam locomotives and cars were originally the private collection of millionaire, F Nelson Blount, who died in 1967. It also serves as a museum of the American railroad.
For train enthusiasts, kids and adults alike, like the friend we have whose loft holds a massive train set, Steamtown would make a fascinating visit. The Scranton Train museum captures all aspects of the steam era from the human interest element to the technology side. Although, dare I say it, boys might enjoy this more than girls…Darrin certainly did.
Admission costs $7 for adults and under 16’s get in for free. Address: Steamtown National Historic Site, 150 South Washington Ave., Scranton, PA.