My visit to the Arizona Railway Museum
Where to start. That is really the hard part. First, I have to thank the Arizona Republic for the article that even told me that the Arizona Railway Museum (ARM) existed. Second, I have to give a BIG thanks to Steve Whisel, their webmaster, for giving me the nickel tour of the place, seeing a bit more that most and for putting up with a 43 year old 'kid in a candy store'. Although he said, "No problem, your keeping me from getting dirty." Third, visit the museum it's well worth it and is a place to be visited. You can get more information by visiting their web site.
At the end of this article, there is a link to the pictures I took. In there, is a picture of something you may not have seen in a long time but some of us older folks will remember it. While it's not a railroad artifact, it's something you might see along the rails. My pictures also do not do justice to what they have. To protect the inside of the cars, the shades were down and some pictures a bit dark, and taking pictures through glass cases, it's hard to keep out reflections. Also, I really need to get a wide angle lens.
Like I said, loving trains, I was a kid in a candy store. The only sad thing is that now that it's summer, you will have to wait until after Labor Day to visit. They are closed in the summer, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, although special visits can be arranged. This, of course makes sense since it's outdoors and at 110 you'd rather be indoors or in the pool.
I met Steve while he was just starting to labor on the Army crane, pulling out lead weights the previous owner, a junk yard installed. Not much fun as the hole they made to install the weights was left open and Steve's best friend, rust, was visiting. My tour started in the storage area where he showed me the 'unanticipated' project. The Plymouth switching engine which they used to move cars, well, it blew a cylinder. Punched a 5 x 2 inch hole in the cylinder wall. Next we looked in the museum building itself. An old second floor barracks from Williams AFB with the outside stuccoed to look like the old Chandler train station. They have several items to view although Steve told me only about 20% is on display. Not enough room. They have china from a few passenger trains, a real "Harvey girl" uniform on loan from the person who wore it. They were able to get a dispatch center console that ran trains on the Southern Pacific from Tuscon to El Paso. There is a button you push and you can watch a simulation of a train running as the dispatcher sees it. Steve wired this up himself and is still working on it. Takes a bit of time to wire for 1100 lights. I am not kidding. The stories he told me on what they have and how they got them were fantastic. No way to translate them here. I would be writing a book.
Next we looked at the rolling stock. All of the track, except for a small section that connects with the SP/UP spur was all laid by the ARM members. If you look close enough some of the ties still have their date nails in them. In fact, much of what you see, ARM members did the work. I met several of the ARM members working on their projects. All were very friendly and loved to talk about what they were working on. Even a local Boy Scout troop was working on 1 of the tank cars. They have 2 non-steam powered engines and 1 steam engine. 1 is a diesel Baldwin DRS 6-16-1500 needs batteries and the other a gas-mechanical powered engine, a Plymouth which blew a cylinder recently. An interesting feature of the Plymouth is it has a clutch and a four (maybe only three) speed gear shift. There is a separate shifter for forward/reverse so there is the same number of gears in forward and reverse (not like a car). The Steam engine a SP 2-8-0 was originally used as part of playground equipment at the site they are now at. So tons of man hours will be needed to restore is as the city did a, 'if it moves weld it' for safety.
They have 2 cranes that work. The Army crane is a self propelled diesel and the work car crane is steam powered. They have used high air pressure to make the work car crane work. Do to the type of construction, current safety regulations prohibit the firing of the boiler.
What you will be able to see when you visit depends on how many volunteers are on hand during normal visiting hours. All of the cars can be viewed from the outside but only a few from the inside. Some cars cannot be really visited inside due to the state of restoration they are in. In 1 car, a couple of museum members were in the process of sawing up the floor so it could be replaced. There is a smoking car, that was used as a mail car then a work crew car, is being gutted so it could be restored. The plan for the 580 car is to not technically restore it back to a smoking car. It will become a display car. One of the long range goals of the museum is to build a display of passenger car seating through the ages. One of their members has about 6-8 different types of seating all the way from wood benches to modern Amtrak seats. They plan to install them along one wall so visitors can get a "feel" for the different levels of comfort through the ages. The rest of the interior will be open for display cases.
They also have privately owned cars and cabooses that can be viewed if staffed. Some of these cars are really fancy. Many of the passenger cars are used for ARM sponsored trips like 'Make-A-Wish' and some can be used for meetings. If you think an RV is expensive to maintain try a railcar. To be Amtrak ready, every 40 years the cars trucks must be completely taken apart, tested, magna-fluxed, rebuilt and inspected by an Amtrak official. This includes you paying for him to come out and stay. While you say '40 years?, that's a long time', most of the passenger cars available to be purchased and be used as private cars are 30+ years old now. A complete car restoration to Amtrak standards can cost upwards of $250,000 to $500,000. If this is not done, the only way you could ever travel in your passenger car is via railroad sanctioned events (special trains, Make-A -Wish, Trooper on Train, etc.)
Ever wonder what it's like to ride and work in a caboose? You can. They have a ATSF caboose that is about 85% restored to when it was is use on the railroad, see my pictures.
Outside of the cost of restoring and maintaining the museum the next biggest hurtle is staff. Since they are a non-profit group they depend on need for Docents/Volunteers. The Docents staff the building and, with more, Steve said they could start "officially" staffing some of the equipment. Their mid-term goal is to take several of the cars being restored and place them on the track nearest the building (where boxcars currently reside). Once that area is fenced, those cars would be staffed (with enough volunteers) and be the cars that will be open during "official" hours. We take turns and everyone on the current Docent list ends up "working" about 3 times each season.
A long term goal is to move to a much bigger location. The city of Chandler is in the process of creating a new park to the south of the museums current location. When approved, the museum will have a 10,000 sq.ft. main building which will house a much larger museum with more of the artifacts, seating area and displays. They will have a covered work area to keep things cooler when cars are being worked on and a lot more track including a wye to help turn cars around.
To conclude, I think what ARM has done and is doing is teriffic. These people but a lot of time and effort into creating something everybody should see. I myself was taken in by the love and joy the members have for the museum. I was only there for my first visit but was talking to some like I have been a member for years. They are always looking for new members. If you are not sure you want to join, you can voluteer for a day to see what's up and see if it's for you. You don't have to be a 'Bob Vila' or 'Tim the Tool Man Taylor' to be of help. Sorting and cataloging the thousands of items, the 3 box cars they have, 80% full of artifacts, or just staffing durning visiting hours is a big help. If you decide it's something you would like to do, I have, the cost to join is nominal. $20 per year for a single person or $25 for a family, that's it. See their website for details.