Train museum keeps railroad memories alive

Rail ambassador Dave Palmer explains the complications and dangers of operating a steam engine to a tour group at the RailGiants Train Museum at the Fairplex on Sunday. He said this particular engine, the Southern Pacific 5021, has a whistle loud enough to be heard more than 50 miles away. / photo by Vincent Matthew Franco
Rail ambassador Dave Palmer explains the complications and dangers of operating a steam engine to a tour group at the RailGiants Train Museum at the Fairplex on Sunday. He said this particular engine, the Southern Pacific 5021, has a whistle loud enough to be heard more than 50 miles away. / photo by Vincent Matthew Franco

Amy Alcantara
Staff Writer 

The RailGiants Train Museum in Fairplex is open to the public every month during the second weekend, except May. This museum is home to some of the well-preserved locomotives, including freight and passenger cars. 

The purpose of this exhibition is to preserve and educate the public about the trains and railroad history. This collection of trains, memorabilia, equipment and artifacts is free for the public to see and enjoy. 

The RailGiants Train museum was founded and owned by the National Railway and Locomotive Historical Society and is part of the Southern California Chapter. Everyone working here is a volunteer and is in charge of keeping up with cosmetic restorations, running the gift shop and providing free tours to the public.  

“We prioritize projects and we all come out and work on them. This is mainly a static display museum, which means everything for the most part is cosmetic restoration,” Rick Brown, a volunteer at the museum, said. “We only have one working locomotive which is the diesel Union Pacific. It does work. We move it back and forth, but that’s the only one.”

Every car and caboose has a backstory and information displayed for visitors to read. The RailGiants Train Museum is different from exhibitions in other cities. Not only does it have a working locomotive that is turned on when the museum is open to the public, but it also provides a unique experience for its guests. 

“We are coming from the San Fernando Valley. It took us about an hour to get here,” Julio Argueta, a father visiting the museum with his son, said. “I’m surprised they have a lot of things on compared to other locations.”

One of the things that guests find interesting is that they can go in the cars and see the inside.  

“This is a better experience. They told us that if we want to go in, we just have to let them know, and they will open the door,” Argueta said.You can ring the bell or blow the horn on certain engines, which is something you can’t do somewhere else from what I know.”

The Santa Fe train station, built in 1887 and located in Arcadia, is now the RailGiants Train Museum’s starting point. 

Shelly Shatsnider, a RailGiants Train Museum volunteer, said it was moved to Fairplex in 1969, and since then, part of it has been rebuilt after it collapsed during the move from the other side of the fairgrounds. 

There have been new additions to the museum. A gift shop was added and in an adjacent room is an educational video about locomotives and railroad history. Museum volunteers are available to provide private tours. 

Shatsnider said they got their first piece for the museum in 1954. One of their latest pieces is located in the back, which was given to the museum in 2014. In February 2020, they received a caboose that had been sitting in a park in Montclair. They will start working on it to set it up and add it to their display with the others. 

The National Railway and Locomotive Historical Society organization and its volunteers want to keep providing this distinctive experience to the public. Even though they are only open on the second weekend of each month, they try to accommodate guests for those who visit from out of town on other days. People who want to visit the museum when it is closed may contact a volunteer at railgiants.org.

“We want people to go up and kids to ring the bells and blow the whistle. That’s a part of the experience,” Brown said. “That makes a huge difference in a child’s experience. Whether it’s just a big piece of steel or ‘Hey! This thing makes noise and I got to do it. I got to blow the whistle.’ That’s really a big part of this.”

Amy Alcantara can be reached at amairani.alcantaramontes@laverne.edu

Vincent Matthew Franco is a senior journalism major with a concentration in print and online journalism. He has been involved in journalism and print media in high school, community college and is now at the social media editor of the Campus Times and a staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine. He previously served as arts editor.

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