Oklahoma Railway Museum prepares for 20th year in operation
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The train engine bells started to cling and clang. The bell’s rhythm was interrupted by the blast of the horn. And the Oklahoma Railway Museum’s popular Halloween Train ride pulled out of the 1906 depot as costumed riders peered out passenger car windows at a crisp, fall day.
Nestled amid the scrub oaks and trees of northeast Oklahoma City’s Adventure District, the museum is about to make tracks into its 20th year.
Founded in 1999, the museum has preserved relics of the railroad past — train engines, cars and cabooses — that were restored and parked on the grounds.
It all started with an idea from local railroad enthusiasts who found the decaying 1905 depot from Oakwood in Dewey County that was originally on the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient Railway. The depot building was moved and restored on the original three museum acres.
For 2019, plans are to begin raising money toward a $10 million to $20 million expansion on three more acres north of the existing site, said director Anne Murray Chilton, whose late father Jim Murray was one of the museum founders. Murray, who built miniature model trains, and other railroad buffs envisioned a train museum that offered rides to children and families who visit the Oklahoma City Zoo and surrounding attractions.
“We want to preserve the railroad heritage in Oklahoma,” Chilton told The Oklahoman . “Railroads helped shape the state of Oklahoma and the nation.”
Drake Rice, 70, of Oklahoma City, one of founders of the museum, has always loved trains as a hobby and wants the museum to preserve railroad heritage into the future.
“The reason this is important is because it is preserving railroad history in Oklahoma. Railroads used to be the largest employer in the state in the first part of the 20th century,” Rice said.
The non-profit museum has become a tourist attraction that draws visitors from around the world.
“We’ve had people come from England and Australia, to name a few countries, and all the states in the Union,” Rice said. “It enables people like myself to bring their grand kids out and tell them, ‘This is the way we used to travel.’”
Hundreds of people rode the Halloween season rides in October, and thousands are expected for the holiday season Christmas train rides. Thomas the Train and the Polar Express have been popular attractions at the museum.
“We’re currently working on the Frisco 1908 depot from Le Flore, Oklahoma, so we’re doing the restoration on that,” Chilton said.
In 2017, the museum received a donation of a 1920 Frisco turntable bridge. The plans call for the turntable to connect with a roundhouse, a building where trains are stored and maintained so equipment can be kept out of the elements, Chilton said.
The museum has lacked a building to store artifacts. Artifacts are currently stored in a train car. So a two-story building is part of the plan to be built in coming years, Chilton said.
The museum will host a train show the first weekend in December.
Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com