Monday, May 13, 2013

Elkhart, Indiana: National New York Central Railroad Museum

What fun we had at this railroad museum!  This was one of those great surprises we didn't expect.

The National New York Central Railroad Museum, started in 1987, honors the memory and tells the story of the vast New York Central Railroad System. At one time the NY Central was the second-largest railroad in the country with some 11,000 miles of track in eleven states and two Canadian provinces.

Elkhart is a natural home for this museum: the gargantuan freight yard is the largest railroad freight classification yard east of the Mississippi River.

One of the busiest railroad lines in the entire Midwest runs every 15 minutes alongside this museum, adding a thrilling air of authenticity to our visit. It's the Norfolk Southern mainline.

New York Central diesel locomotive #4086 from 1953.
This was the lead locomotive of the eastbound 20th Century Limited
when it left Chicago for New York for the last time on December 2, 1967.

Plop - Plop - Fizz - Fizz

The red brick building shown in both the picture above, and the one below, is the old Myers Laboratories building from where Alka Seltzer was concocted and shipped way back in the 1930's! Dr. Franklin Miles began Miles Laboratories in 1884 right here on this location in Elkhart, Indiana.

The creation of Alka Seltzer came about during a flu epidemic in 1928. It was then that the president of Miles Laboratories took note that a group of people who took an aspirin and baking soda at the first sign of illness never came down with the flu.  Given the task of creating a simple formula to duplicate the aspirin / baking soda formula into a single dose, the Miles Laboratories chief chemist created Alka Seltzer.  As a bonus, it made a refreshing, fizzy drink.  People liked it and it worked.

Our unofficial tour guide was Brian, an off-duty employee at Whole Foods who provided an unexpected, strange, yet informative tour.  He gave us colorful, yet simple descriptions of everything inside and outside at the museum. 
The red brick building behind him is the old Miles Laboratories building.
The New York Central Railroad was founded in 1853. It was one of the major railroads connecting the East Coast with the nation's interior. The railroad was a consolidation of 10 small railroads. Inside the museum we found a vast array of New York Central Railroad memorabilia and a huge model railroad. Because we happened to be the only patrons in the museum, Brian turned the lights down low and we got a thrilling nighttime view of the spectacular models below, in operation.

I should say here that Brian (photo above) is not an employee of the museum. He just hangs out there on his days off his day job as a dishwasher at Whole Foods.  Brian greeted us at the museum door when we arrived and we weren't sure what was going on with him.  We were never told the museum offered a "guided tour" but we sure got one!  Brian is a lifelong resident of Elkhart and has an extensive knowledge of the city's history and the life stories of both the NY Central railroad and trains in general.

This huge model train display was donated to the museum.

Every little boy wants an electric train.  The Wayner is no exception -- even now.
In this photograph, Brian is describing how the box cars stay cool even in the hottest weather.
He gave a "hands on" demonstration, pulling the heavy box car doors open so we could feel the cool air inside.

In this picture, Brian is explaining the circumstances under which a caboose design change was made. 
At one time, some caboose cars were made with a raised roof with forward facing windows that allowed train personnel to see the entire length of train ahead of them.  However, the added height caused some problems when low bridges, tunnels and even some tree branches hit them on occasion.  The raised roof caboose had to be removed.
I accidently deleted the picture of the raised roof caboose. Drat.

With the removal of the raised roof caboose, the introduction of the bay window caboose came about. Yep, there's one of those in the museum yard too.  It's in the picture below.

Conrail Bay Window Caboose
On down the line Brian pulled open a heavy rusted door and plowed through debris to show us inside this old club car.  It is scheduled to be restored. Even in it's terrible condition, it's easy for a train lover to see the excitement of the train passengers sitting at the tables.   

As fans of old movies, Wayne and I could easily visualize the cigarette smoke-filled car
 and hear the clink of the cocktail glasses. 
The New York Central, at one time, used some 600 Mohawk steam locomotives like the one in the photo below.  Just two of them survive today and this is one of them.

Mohawk #3001 is a 1940 ALCO-built L-3a steam locomotive.
The rust colored side boards, known as "elephant ears", are not original but were added later.
These panels deflected the steam and smoke out and away from the passenger car windows behind.
If you find yourself in or around Elkhart, Indiana and if you have an interest in trains, I recommend spending an hour or so at this museum. If you're lucky, Brian will have a day and be there to show you around.  Here's a picture of the sign at the entrance.

My Personal Connection to Elkhart

When I was born (waaaay back there), my immigrant father was unemployed.  Says so, right there on my birth certificate.  Within a few months, my parents loaded the car with our few belongings and drove to Elkhart from Alabama. My father would find work in the booming "trailer home" building business.   We stayed long enough to save a little money and then we promptly returned to the south where we belonged.  My southern raised mother never liked the north.

My wonderful daddy holding me in front of our Elkhart, Indiana home. 
We were a pretty mobile family even back then.

Elkhart, like so many cities these days, has a bunch of personalized statues.  Don't know exactly what this particular elk statue is suppose to represent.  It was just convenient for me to photograph. 
We're in Elkhart for a few days to get Endie's squealing air bag valve repaired. After so many beautiful weather days, we had a terribly cold snap come through over the weekend. Temperatures will be rising as the week goes on.  Bad weather can't stop our exploration though.

Join us in a few days for a couple of memorable local stops. 

1 comment:

  1. We tried to go to that museum when we were there but they were closed for a busted pipe (I think) so we didn't get to go in. Thanks for the tour.