by Pablo Angulo-Gonzalez
COVER PHOTO: Burlington Route caboose, ORM’s oldest piece of equipment (1878), which once ran on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad – photo by Pablo Angulo-Gonzalez
Lovers of history and specifically of the history of the “iron horse” have a special place to visit in Oklahoma City’s Adventure District. The Oklahoma Railway Museum was established in 2000 after a group of railroad enthusiasts came together and opened up a space where they could share their passion. The group has been collecting and preserving railway artifacts for decades.
Train Lovers Unite
The effort began with the Central Oklahoma Railfan Club, which was created in the 1960s. Train lovers and railway fans from all over the state came together to share memories and artifacts.
Eventually, club members decided it was time to find one place to keep and preserve all of their freight
cars, passenger carts, cabooses, engines and much more train-related artifacts collected
In the late 1990’s, the Central Oklahoma Railfan Club purchased a plot South of 36th Street
next to Grand Boulevard and acquired a segment of what used to be Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railway. Only bits and pieces are left of the MKT in Oklahoma, and the museum owns a segment.
Railway Education = Railway Fun
Locals, tourists, club members and anyone interested in trains and its connection to Oklahoma
can have an educational and fun time at the Oklahoma Railway Museum.
“Our whole mission is to provide an educational experience of how railroads built Oklahoma and
the Nation,” said Anne Chilton, manager of the museum. Chilton has been running the museum since 2008 and gets help from volunteers. Her father was one of the founding members of the fan club, and shared his train passion with his daughter.
The museum opens multiple days a week and is getting ready for the summer train rides and
special events. Summer train rides – twice per month starting in April -, steam train rides, Halloween rides and more are also available.
People can also hop on other train-related experiences like being “at the throttle.”
The museum also takes reservations for birthday parties and other special occasions.
Oklahoma: Founded on the Railways
Oklahoma history has a connection to trains and the development of the national railway
system. Before statehood, Oklahoma was caught between a developing national railway system.
Although railway use was present in the first half of the 19th century, it was during the latter half
of the century that the United States railway system developed into one of the country’s main
modes of transportation.
During this time of national industrialization, the U.S. economy flourished as millions of pounds of
steel were being tracked down in the shape of train rails. The efficient movement of people and goods helped local economies all over the United States.
Some cities – like Oklahoma City for example – were first established as train depots, and then
became larger communities as merchandise and labor traveled around the country at faster
rates and higher volumes. In fact the original name of Oklahoma City was Oklahoma Station, referring to its existence mainly as a simple railroad station on the open prairie.
Construction of the Katy
During construction of the various railroads, immigrants to the United States and other people from diverse backgrounds and places (including both in and out of state, and even outside of the U.S.) ballasted and tracked metal in the land currently known as Oklahoma.
The main goal was to connect railways between Kansas, Texas and all the neighboring states
around what was at the time known as Indian Territory.
It was during this time period that the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway (MKT) was built. It became the first railway to enter Texas from the North.
At some point in time, the railway became known as K-T (Kansas-Texas) and was nicknamed
The Katy Railway eventually ended up becoming a part of the Union Pacific Railway due to merger.
Nowadays, you can catch a steam-engine train running on what used to be the Katy Railway
within the Oklahoma Railway Museum.
Rails to Trails – Giving New Life to the Katy
The Katy is the same railway from which one of the prominent bicycle trails of OKC is named after. Bicyclists can hop on the Katy bike trail to loop around parts of the northeast metro area, and for those who fancy a trip down Memory Lane – or in this case Memory Line – the Oklahoma Railway Museum is an easy stop along the way.