A Visit to The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum
The museum is tucked away at the north end of Tucson’s historic depot on Toole Avenue. Unless you’re incurably in love with the great age of the thundering steam-driven passenger trains you probably never realized it’s there.
The next time you’re downtown with an hour or so to spare you should pay a visit. For those who remember the great age of the American passenger train it’s a trip down memory lane. For the younger visitor, possibly a grandchild, it’s an introduction to an interesting slice of Arizona history.
The museum itself is located in one room. You’ll find a collection of railroad tools and artifacts…crossing bells, gandy dancer’s* tools, lanterns and so on…but much of the historical information is presented by wall mounted posters that might be a challenge to very young visitors.
Never fear, there are a series of displays that ask questions about railroading like, “What does a conductor do?” or “What does an engineer do?” that cover all the aspects of railroading. At each display there is a telephone on which you can hear an explanation…no reading required.
There is an excellent video program that describes the preservation of the museum’s finest (and biggest) display…the Mogul class steam engine Number 1673.
The engine is housed outside in its own protective ramada and is open to visitors whenever the museum is open. On my visit I was lucky enough to meet Gene Anderson, one of the volunteers responsible for preserving #1673, and himself a retired engineer, who took me up into the cab and explained what it was like to operate one of these giants.
Every Saturday from 10AM to 1PM volunteers are on hand at the locomotive ramada to answer any of your questions about #1673 and the great age of steam.
The museum is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11am to 3pm. Friday and Saturday hours are 10am to 4pm and Sunday 11am to 3pm.
The museum is closed Mondays and is always free.
* Gandy dancers were the workers who laid and maintained track.