With Galveston being a port city with dockside boats and ships, visitors might be surprised to learn there’s a railroad museum – the largest in the Southwest – right in the heart of the historic Strand District.
“The first bridges across Galveston Bay were railroad bridges,” says Morris Gould, Executive Director of the Galveston Railroad Museum. “Trains were running 50 years before trucks and automobiles, and how else was cargo moved that was brought by ships? In its heyday, the Union Depot here operated at least one train an hour 24 hours a day.”
Since the museum’s grand reopening nearly three years ago, after damage from Hurricane Ike, the star exhibits have been the twin locomotives restored to look like Santa Fe F-7 Super Chiefs. The locomotives are called Warbonnets because of their signature red, yellow and silver patterns. The flagship of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, the Super Chiefs and their streamlined silver passenger cars were known as “The Train of the Stars” due to the many celebrities they once whisked between Chicago and Los Angeles.
“Most visitors use our Warbonnets as backdrops for their photos,” notes Gould. “We have had weddings taken place with the locomotives in the background. We get lots of comment regarding how nice our locomotives look.”
Located on the west end of The Strand, the museum houses close to 50 railroad cars and locomotives on five acres, including cabooses, a couple of steam locomotives, diesel locomotives, passenger cars and a post office car. Exhibits include the restored depot, once Galveston’s original Union Station, built in 1933.
New this year, according to Gould, will be a museum audio tour available by late summer. In addition, the museum has been working with the City of Galveston and Genesis & Wyoming Railroad in an attempt to host the Polar Express holiday train ride. “Due to the time-frame, it's unlikely to happen this year,” Gould adds, “but hopefully the obstacles can be overcome and we can participate in 2016.”
Still going strong is the so-called Harborside Express, a museum train ride where a GE 80-ton locomotive pulls a restored Missouri-Pacific caboose seating 25 people. Rides are on most Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., lasting 15 minutes and running parallel to Harborside Drive.
“Our Harborside Express train rides are high on the list,” says Gould. “And so are our railroad china displays and model train layouts. Our archives exhibits are also very popular among our guests.”
Other highlights include cars and locomotives used in movies over the years including the Robert E. Lee, a combination observation and sleeping car with chairs and a large restroom where men would smoke. A 1920s Pullman heavyweight car was also used in movies. Two restored dining cars from the 1940s are used to host birthday parties, while museum facilities also host weddings, parties, corporate meetings and receptions.