Located in Tucson, Arizona, the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum is a museum dedicated to the history and preservation of southwestern United States railroads, featuring a fully restored historic locomotive. Tucson's Southern Pacific Railroad Depot, located on Toole Avenue in the city's downtown area, was built in 1907 as part of the Southern Pacific Railroad network.
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In 1998, the facility was purchased by the City of Tucson for restoration. A master plan called for the restoration of the main depot to its 1941 architectural style for use as an Amtrak station, along with the creation of a transportation museum at the depot's former records building.
The museum was opened to the public in March 2005 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of railroads in Tucson. Today, it is managed by Old Pueblo Trolley, a nonprofit educational organization named after the city's former streetcar line.
The museum is free and open to the public, who may tour its exhibits along with the rest of the historic depot facility.
The centerpiece of the museum is the fully restored Southern Pacific locomotive #1673, which was produced by New York company Schenectady Locomotive Works in 1900. Originally known as Schenectady 5683, the 2-6-0 M-4b Mogul locomotive logged over a million miles of transport for the Southern Pacific Railroad from 1901 through the late 1940s. The 146,000-pound oil-burning machine is one of 105 in its class produced, and one of a few still in existence today. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.
Throughout the 1950s, the engine was primarily used for publicity and events, including an appearance on screen in the 1954 film Oklahoma. It was also the star of the Southern Pacific's 75th anniversary celebration in Arizona in 1955, pulling an excursion train for a crowd of 10,000. Following the event, the locomotive was retired and donated to the city, which placed it on display in front of the Arizona Historical Society headquarters. In 1962, it was moved to a public display location at Himmel Park, where it stayed until December of 2000. Throughout its display at the park, exposure to the elements and public vandalism caused significant deterioration of the machine's condition, prompting a number of failed attempts to move it to a more protected site. It has been fully restored several times, once in the mid-1990s and again as part of its move to the Transportation Museum, which is dedicated to ongoing repairs and restorations to keep the engine at its original running condition.
Though the Amtrak station is still in daily operation, museum guests may visit the restored Depot Lobby, which serves as a living history museum area. It has been fully restored to its 1942 architecture, featuring intricate floor tile work representative of the time period. Several permanent bilingual exhibits are housed within the Records Building, including Voices of Southern Arizona Railroaders, which features oral history accounts from railroad employees who worked at the station during the steam and diesel periods. Six panels produced in conjunction with a 2011 Union Pacific Centennial Train visit event are on display at the museum, outlining the history and evolution of railroads in Arizona from 1854 to the present. Visitors may also tour the facility's grounds, which feature the Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday Statue, commemorating the duo's revenge against Frank Stillwell, suspected murderer of Morgan Earp.
Ongoing Programs and Events
The museum maintains an active library collection, featuring databases of periodicals, books, films, and multimedia related to railroad history. In addition to the museum's permanent collections on display at the depot, the 1919 Tucson, Cornelia and Gila Bend Railroad Boxcar #203 is held at the Old Pueblo Trolley's Motor Bus Division Yard, available for visit by appointment.
In May, the Silver Spike Festival is hosted by the museum in downtown Tucson, commemorating the 1880 arrival of railroads to the city. On the five Tuesdays leading up to the celebration, a lecture series is held at the museum, highlighting railroad history topics. Every January, the Dillinger Days event remembers the capture of infamous Tucson criminals the Dillinger Gang, with a showcase of antique cars and 1930s-style dancers. Other annual events include the Tucson Birthday Celebration in August and the Holiday Express in December, which offers photographs with Santa in front of the #1673 locomotive.
The Locomotive Saturdays program takes place every Saturday, with volunteer docents on site to answer questions about steam locomotives. Guided tours of the museum as well as walking history tours highlighting historic spots in the city's downtown area, are also offered for small groups and organizations. Educational programs for students and youth on train safety are presented in conjunction with the Arizona chapter of Operation Lifesaver, an international train safety awareness program founded in 1972.
414 N Toole Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701, Phone: 520-623-2223