The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum is a relatively new railroad museum having just recently been started by the city of Tucson in the mid-2000s. The museum is located in the former Southern Pacific’s (also affectionately remembered as the “Espee”) beautiful two-story station in Tucson and its main focus, as you might guess, is centered on the history of Arizona’s railroads. Although their current collection of railroading equipment is somewhat small they do feature former Southern Pacific 2-6-0 #1673 that is cosmetically restored into its original livery. Aside from the museum’s railroad equipment they also feature a number of historic railroad artifacts and even have a model railroad layout on hand. Finally, if you become bored with or tired of the exhibits simply step outside to Union Pacific trains roll by along the Espee’s former “Sunset Route”, which is still an important main line connecting New Orleans with Los Angeles (dozens of trains still pass the station daily).
The history of the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum begins as late as 1998 when the city of Tucson purchased the local Espee station from Union Pacific to save the building from being demolished. The city also has one other former depot still standing constructed by the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad although it is not nearly as ornate as the SP structure, which is a two-story brick/stucco building built in 1907 in the “mission style”. After purchasing the station the city spent a lot of money restoring it back into its original appearance, a task that was completed six years later in 2004. During 2001 a committee was formed to begin planning the museum and after the restoration it was opened on March 20th, 2005, which was the the 125th anniversary of the first train to arrive in the city.Since then, a lot has changed at the museum. Along with the station the organization has since restored three outlying buildings, which are now being used as part of the complex. Additionally, the Old Pueblo Trolley, Inc. calls the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum home and stores its trolleys indoors. This organization is run entirely on volunteer effort and labor, and today they have nearly four original interurban cars operational. The OPT operates every weekend between Friday and Sunday on a system that runs in historic Tucson between Congress and Broadway Streets (making a loop), and over to Tyndall Avenue (making a rough “L” shape).
While the OPT does focus on Tucson’s history with streets they also look to generally tell the story of these interesting machines, as they affected the country as a whole. Interestingly, the organization is broken down into three divisions: the Bus Division, the Street Railway Division, and finally the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum. For more information regarding the Old Pueblo Trolley please click here to visit their website.It should be noted that the entire building is not a museum, as Amtrak still uses the first floor for passenger service (its Sunset Limited between New Orleans and Los Angeles still calls as the station). However, the rest of the grounds and buildings are open to the public to visit. Most of these buildings, aside from housing some of the OPT’s equipment also featuring plenty of displays telling the history of the railroad industry and how it affected Arizona’s, and the country’s, growth. Additionally, they have a large, perfectly scaled model of the station explaining its entire history and design.
The pride and enjoy of SATM is certainly their original Southern Pacific steam locomotive on site, 2-6-0 Mogul #1673. This locomotive was delivered to the Espee in November, 1900 from the American Locomotive Company’s Schenectady, New York plant. The steamer began life as a coal burner but was soon switched over to oil (being that the SP had a better available supply of petroleum). The Mogul operated most of its life in the area around Tuscon hauling freight trains and is even famous for being filmed in the move Oklahoma in 1955.
That same year the locomotive was donated to Tucson by the SP and placed in Himmel Park in 1962. There it stayed until 1994 when it was fully cosmetically restored. In December, 2000 it was placed at the depot and today is covered, out of elements ensuring its future. Perhaps one day the little steam locomotive can even be restored to full operational status although at the current time it plays host to various events and special activities held on the premises. To learn more about the Southern Arizona Transportation and planning a visit please click here to visit their website, which provides in depth information about everything available to do and see on the grounds.
Per the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum’s request I was asked to mention the below book, Tucson Was a Railroad Town: The Days of Steam in the Big Burg on the Main Line from Bill Kalt, a member of the museum. The book highlights Tuscon and how the railroad came to shape, grow, and develop the city from its earliest beginnings to its present-day appearance. While the book is a bit pricey your purchase goes toward helping the museum so if you have any interest in the Tucson area’s railroading past I would highly recommend Mr. Kalt’s book.Also, for more information and reading about excursion trains and railroad museums you might want to consider picking up Tourist Trains Guidebook from the editors of Kalmbach Publishing’s Trains magazine. The book lists and reviews over 400 excursions and museums found throughout the country and is an excellent resource, which has received superb reviews by readers, if you’re looking for one to visit. In any event, if you’re interested in perhaps purchasing either (or both) of these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.
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Check out the website’s new digital book (E-book), An Atlas To Classic Short Lines, which features system maps and a brief background of 46 different historic railroads. To learn more about it please click on the image below.