WARM: More Than Just a Museum
She sits a little behind the rest of the rolling stock at the Western America Railroad Museum, welcoming visitors in her fading red-and-silver Warbonnet, a sparkle in her 47-year-old eyes.
The old cowboy band Riders in the Sky got it right when they sang,
“…watch her fly, here comes the Santa Fe.
She’s thundering loud, she’s roaring haughty and proud at the break of day.”
There’s nothing like a train. Whether rumbling through a crossing — horn shrieking, gate bells clamoring or sitting peacefully on a track at the local railroad museum, a train can quicken the pulse or simply bring back memories. It doesn’t matter if it is Union Pacific or BNSF.
Maybe a grandfather worked for a railway, or a great-grandfather before then, inspiring a love for the railroad. Often WARM visitors are retired railroad men and women, studying the artifacts, remembering the glory days of railroading — the last years of steam or passenger trains. Many of them retired from the Santa Fe in Barstow.
Perhaps they are members of family trying to find a bit of history — when Dad or Mom worked for the railroad and what they did.
Lawrence Dale, president of the board of the Western America Railroad Museum said, “You know, people come in and ask about relatives who used to work for railroad. We have rosters that go back to 1923. We can tell you when they worked here and their craft.”
If they can give us a name, we can run them down.”
WARM is about memories, exploration and research. A library is available by appointment for those on fact-finding missions or delving into the past.
BNSF donated a locomotive simulator control stand designed to be exactly what engineers will experience on the road. You can sit in the engineer’s chair in the booth and run through the control modes just like a real locomotive — apply the brakes, determine how fast to go and see what signals and crossings are coming up.
A video display shows the track ahead. Want to go to Needles? Have a seat. Or Bakersfield? Be prepared for a long haul; it’s slow going up the Tehachapi Pass.
From stop to full-ahead power, as the train picks up speed, the simulation display changes accordingly.
The simulator runs in real time — no jumping ahead to the interesting locations. You just have to sit there and watch the empty desert roll by. This what an engineer in the Mojave sees. “It’s pretty boring,” Lawrence said, but still he sat in the booth enjoying the controls.
In addition to what you can see from the cab, you can watch a ES44 GE locomotive and its train blow by from the virtual trackside. If someone from the museum who knows how to work the simulator is on hand, visitors can pretend to be engineers for a while. The horn works!
The only thing you miss is leaning out the cab window, the wind thrashing your hair and the thrum of the powerful engine under your feet.
Ed Squires and wife Marlene talked with Lawrence about the days Ed worked in the Santa Fe diesel shops. Ed, who grew up in Barstow enjoys remembering those days. He recounts how creepy it was in the basement below the shop.
The couple lives in Apple Valley now but Ed remembers the waiting room in the Harvey House when he was little, with its curved benches and ticket window and coming to the station to pick up people. After 48 years, he recalls how that felt, “The museum sure brings back a lot of memories.”
A mannequin dressed in the uniform of a Harvey House girl catches Marlene’s attention. She reads how young women would come west to work in Fred Harvey’s chain of restaurants and hotels along the rail line; bringing meals for famished passengers and a touch of class and civilization in places where the Old West still lived.
One case displays precious, often pristine pieces of china used on trains and in the Harvey House restaurants. Other cases have examples of old locks and keys, tools, artwork, timetables.
Occupying almost the entire east end of the museum is the model Dog Tooth Mountain Railroad layout built by Richard Vye of Santa Monica. Started in 1988, he finished the complex structure in 2002 — with a four-year break due to the 1994 earthquake in Los Angeles. Gold mines, pine forests, and an urban section with switchyard, machine and blacksmith shops invite rail fans and just plain folks to explore the 1930s steam era.
When WARM acquired the layout they had to wrestle it out of Mr. Vie’s second-story window, Lawrence said.
Before having a permanent home, WARM members met in various places but the goal was always to have a physical museum to display railroad artifacts, most of which once belonged to retired railroad employees from the area or their families.
Lawrence has three cases of items he collected while working for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, known around town simply as “the Santa Fe.”
Past board president Hank Graham has a case of model and miniature trains, detailed down to handrails and bells.
One of the rarest items in the museum is the largest collection of date nails on display anywhere, Dale said. They were collected by a machinist named Al Gustafon.
On Jeff’s Date Nail web page it states, “Briefly, a date nail is a nail with the date stamped in its head. For example, a nail with a “41” is from 1941. Date nails were driven into railroad ties, bridge timbers, utility poles, mine props, and other wooden structures for record keeping purposes.”
Date nails are a way for those fascinated with the railroad to own a piece of history. As the old ties are pulled out and replaced with new ones, the date nails go with them unless they are rescued by collectors. Even if they can be found, pulling date nails out of a track is an unsafe and illegal practice. The museum offers them for sale.
WARM’s rolling stock is impressive. Its equipment includes a vintage ATSF horse car, an ATSF caboose, Santa Fe locomotive 1460 “The Beep,” a vintage business car from the Arizona & California Railroad and Union Pacific locomotive #9950 and more. The business car, red caboose and #95 will be open to the public for the museum’s Railfest in October.
Climb aboard, pretend.
Western American Railroad Museum
11th Annual Rail and Craft Fest
October 11th & 12th at the Barstow Harvey House
All you want to know about date nails —https://pages.uindy.edu/~oaks/DateNailInfo.htm
Dog Tooth Mountain Railroad — https://www.trainlife.com/articles/549/dog-tooth-mountain-railroad.