I’ve driven back and forth along Arizona Avenue and McQueen Road in Chandler for the last few years and never paid much attention to the small blue sign, pointing to the Arizona Railway Museum. Last Saturday afternoon, my husband and I decided to stop.
The Arizona Railway Museum, located at 330 East Ryan Road, comprises a collection of railroad cars and a museum building displaying a miscellany of memorabilia: tools, signs, photos, lanterns, timelines, an antique control center plus various parts and pieces of trains and rail systems — even samples from railroad company china cabinets. What caught my eye were the old photos of some of Arizona’s train stations, now long gone. A gift shop provides visitors with a wide selection of hats, shirts, mugs and toys. We spent a few minutes strolling around the museum, gaining a renewed appreciation for the era when rail transportation was both prevalent and popular.
But when we made our way outside to the tour the railway cars, I felt my heart beat faster. Simply walking between the cars prompted a childhood memory of a trip from Cleveland to Milwaukee on a pre-Amtrak passenger train. Memories of all those train sounds, sights and smells suddenly rushed to mind. When I was about 6 years old, I was more than a little apprehensive to climb up those steps to our seats. Last Saturday, I was eager to jump aboard.
At the Arizona Railway Museum, visitors can board several parked rail cars and walk between others onsite, some of which are in various stages of restoration. There are big mining company engines, shiny silver passenger cars, cabooses, locomotives, dining cars, sleepers and track maintenance vehicles. Train buffs and non-train enthusiasts alike, young or old, can spend an enjoyable afternoon at the museum, open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., September through May.
Volunteers work to restore cars and act as docents to help visitors by giving tours and assisting at the museum and gift shop. The museum has several fundraising events each year. According to Tour Director Holly Antosz, the museum’s most recent event, “Dinner in the Diner,” held each December, was so popular, it had to be expanded to a third evening. She said an additional “Dinner in the Diner” event on St. Patrick’s Day is in the works. On our visit we were informed another major event at the museum is National Train Day on May 12, when all cars will be open for viewing. National Train Day commemorates the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Arizona Railway Museum always welcomes new volunteers as well as visitors; contact information is on the website. A visit would be a great way to celebrate the upcoming city or state centennial.