Written by Phil Cerroni
By Jess Paniszczyn
The Museum of the American Railroad proudly debuted with pomp and circumstance during the 1963 Texas State Fair and for the past 50 years it has been a staple of Fair Park in Dallas. But the times are changing. For more than a year, the massive exhibits that make up the museum have been moving northward to Frisco.
“It was a very difficult decision for us to leave Fair Park,” said Bob LaPrelle, CEO of the museum. “Our board and staff agonized over the decision for nearly a year. However, the City of Frisco made us an offer that met all of our strategic planning guidelines, and we just couldn’t refuse. But to leave Dallas where the museum had its own history for so many years, and to also face the necessity of moving such large, massive objects was a big decision.
“The museum has one of the finest collections of railroad history in the country, which includes 40 pieces of rolling stock: locomotives and railcars. We also had to move two historic buildings: a circa 1900 railroad depot, and a control tower building for the rail yards. In addition, there is a very large collection of smaller, three dimensional artifacts like lanterns, and then all the ephemeral items like time schedules, plans and diagrams from the railroad operations. Everything will go to Frisco. In fact the last thing to go will be the rail and track materials that will be pulled up from our old site. Those will be used for future expansion.
“The train museum needs a lot more space than the acre and a half we were accorded at Fair Park. The museum will be on 15 acres in Frisco, so it is really a great opportunity for us to expand all of our programming and exhibits.
“Our mission is to teach a very important aspect of American history to future generations,” LaPrelle said. “You cannot separate the history of the railroad from the history of our nation. They grew together over the past 250 years. There is a great story to be told about the expansion across the Mississippi and then westward to California. We do that with the artifacts in our collection.
“By moving to a larger venue, we will be able to display things in a more visitor-friendly manner. We will be able to develop more educational programs for area schools. We dovetail to their curriculums to help teach cultural, social and technology related subjects not only from an historical standpoint but also in light of current and future technologies of rail and what that means for transportation.
“The final pieces of rolling stock, our two really large steam locomotives, should be in Frisco by May. We hope to do a soft museum opening in early summer. This would allow select pieces to be open for tours including the Pullman sleeping car, a dining car built in the 1930s and some of the other rail passenger cars.
“In the future, we will launch a major building campaign to fund the next phase of construction to create the more permanent museum buildings that will house the smaller pieces in the collection. It may take several years to raise the funds to build something like that. We basically have the footprint established on the master plan for our site.
“This is an exciting time for the museum. Thanks to Frisco and the local railroad companies like BNSF, we are about to launch something that will be great for North Texas.”
To learn more about the Museum of the American Railroad, visit www.historictrains.org .