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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Photo Essay: A Museum of Railway Giants and One Missing Big Boy

To be honest, I really only wanted to go to the RailGiants Train Museum to cross it off my list.



I'd only heard about it in 2013 when the crown jewel of its collection—the "Big Boy" steam locomotive—had been reacquired by Union Pacific to return to its rolling stock as part of its Heritage Locomotive fleet.



At 600 tons and 132 feet in length, it reportedly dwarfed all the other choo-choos in the museum's collection—and once it left Pomona in early 2014 to return to Cheyenne, Wyoming for restoration, I couldn't think of another good reason to visit its former home.



But I had to go and find out anyway. I'd rather confirm disappointment rather than be left wondering. And of course, like most places in the LA area, RailGiants is quite fascinating when you bother to take a closer look.



For instance, with all this talk of building high-speed rail between LA and Vegas, behold the Santa Fe 3450. It provided passenger service at a speed of 110mph—in 1927! By comparison, most Amtrak trains today go about 65 mph; and while Acela service can reach 150 mph, because it shares the tracks with slower trains, it usually doesn't go that fast.



And then there's the museum visitor center and gift shop, located inside the repurposed Arcadia train station, erected in 1887 for the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley Railroad but rendered obsolete by construction of the 210 freeway. The gingerbread-style Santa Fe station has called RailGiants home since 1969.



Besides the 3450, the museum's "gateway locomotive," among the museum's static displays are a few train cars that you can actually climb aboard. But for the Nickel Plate Business Car No. 6, you need somebody with a key to let you in.



This Pullman-built luxury car, built in 1923, was originally owned by the Palos Verdes Peninsula Railroad Company. When it was rebuilt in 1935, it had room for a dozen passengers and crew of two.



The red curtains, crystal chandeliers, and carpeting were installed specifically for the upper-class passengers who'd be taking the train to the Del Mar horse races.



After that, the car served as a makeshift sales office for a housing development in Orange County. And when the last house was sold, the railcar was up for grabs.



Looking back, I realize now that seeing this Pullman car ultimately inspired me to take the sleeper car to San Diego for an overnight trip.



It was better than most motels and vacation rentals I usually stay in.



In fact, I would've booked myself a staycation right then and there, if accommodations were made available to the public.



But while some people do get to sleep on this train every now and then, it's more likely the museum volunteers and members of the Southern California Chapter of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society who maintain and restore the rolling stock in its collection.



And fortunately, a museum that's been around as long as RailGiants has must have more than one or two interesting locomotives. (Especially after losing the biggest one in its collection.)



Equally intriguing—and available for boarding—is the Santa Fe Horse Express car, which once transported race horses to and from the LA County Fair racetrack. Also manufactured by Pullman, it's something of a movie-star train car, having been used in the film Seabiscuit. 



And just to prove how much the RailGiants collection doesn't rely on the presence of the Big Boy, there's also the Santa Fe Caboose No. 1314—the crew accommodations that have been not-so-affectionately referred to as either a "shanty" or a "jailhouse"—and the turn-of-the-century narrow-gauge locomotive that hauled ore along a short line railroad until 1946.



At just 72 tons, it could only go as fast as 25 mph. And unlike a caboose, it wasn't trailing a bigger, more powerful locomotive that could essentially tow it. That was it.



Parked behind the U.S. Potash Company little guy is the steam-powered Southern Pacific 5021. Built in the mid-1920s, it remained in service until 1955.



It retired after spending much of its final years in the Portland area, though it initially serviced the route between Sacramento and Reno over the Sierra Nevadas.



It's the last of 49 such locomotives to survive, but there's something else that makes this one even rarer.



The SP 5021—along with the Union Pacific 9000, also at RailGiants—are two of the four surviving three-cylinder steam locomotives built in the United States.



Used for fast, heavy freight service mainly between Wyoming and Iowa, the coal-powered, 4750-horsepower UP 9000 was donated in 1956.



And while the Union Pacific "Centennial" 6915 may not be as heavy or as long as the "Big Boy Steam Dream," it's still the largest and most powerful diesel locomotive ever built.



This fast-freight locomotive is actually powered by two diesel engines, which drive a generator that provides electricity to electric motors.



Built in 1969 upon the centennial of the "the last spike" completion of the transcontinental railroad in Utah Territory, this one was only in service until 1984—though one of the other 13 remaining Centennials is still in service in Wyoming.

Maybe I'll eventually get to witness the refurbished Big Boy in action. There's talk of some kind of excursion happening within the next couple of years. I just might have to travel father than Pomona to get to it.

And now that I've ridden a few trains along scenic excursion routes, I'm spoiled. Why just look at them when you can rideor drivethem?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: On the Sleeper Car to San Diego
Photo Essay: Riding a Ghost Train and Bunking Up In a Caboose (Or, This Is What A Traincation Is All About)
Photo Essay: Upon the Opening of the 2018 LA County Fair
Photo Essay: The Ghost Railway of Eastern California
Photo Essay: A Taste of Orange Empire Railway Museum
A Travel Town Birthday in Griffith Park