Age of Stream Railroad Museum
After living in suburban Dallas, Texas, for several months, we became aware that there is a railroad museum in Dallas. Thus, one day, Sean (one of our sons) and I went to Fair Park to locate it. After a self-guided tour and a talk with the museum director, Bob LaPrelle, I decided to attend the upcoming membership meeting at the museum. After that, I became active as a volunteer. The staff was made up of numerous other volunteers like me. After accompanying Sandy Sanderson and Bob Diller on tours that they gave, I took my turn as a tour guide.
The equipment was made up of various types of locomotives, passenger cars, sleeping cars, cabooses, an office car, a parlour car, an observation car, a dining-car, and a hand-powered jigger. One of the locomotives was a Big Boy, an example of the largest steam haulers in the US west. Another was an example of the largest diesel hauler in the US. We were allowed to take our groups into or through some of the equipment. Other equipment could only be viewed from the outside. The building where the tours began is a former yard office in Dallas. Railroad souvenirs could be purchased here at the end of the tours. The length of tours varied with the type of group and the time available for it. Mine usually took about forty minutes.
I would like to thank Bob LaPrelle, CEO of the museum, for verifying the names of persons included on this page.
Most, but not all, the tours were with school groups of the elementary and kindergarten grade level. Although I never had a bad group, I particularly liked the younger children. As a teacher during my professional days, I preferred the older children.
When a busload of children, mainly from Dallas schools, arrived, I greeted them and directed them into the station waiting-room. If the number was particularly large, I divided them into groups, based on the number of guides available. Each guide would talk to the children before commencing the tour through the yard. Most of the children had never experienced a train ride as the guides had. We tried to make this a living trip for them.
Based on our reading of the printed guide of the equipment and our own experiences, we wove our individual stories. When we stopped to see the large electric locomotive, I described an incident when one of this type experienced brake failure on the approach to Union Station, in Washington, D.C. As we passed the huge diesel locomotive, I pointed out the large fuel tanks on the side of it. In front of the Big Boy, I gave a lesson in railroad safety. At the approach of the cab of this locomotive, the massive fire bed was pointed out. There was always something of interest for the children to see.
In my last year as a volunteer, I tried a new approach. While I was introducing the museum to the children in the waiting room, I asked for volunteers to help me. Many hands would shoot up every time. Then I selected from them, using both boys and girls. One would be my switchman; one would be my engineer (or driver); one would be my fireman; and one would be my conductor on a passenger train. The children responded well. There were not enough jobs to go around.
As we came to a rail switch, I showed the children how it was used to cause a train to change tracks. My switchman would be encouraged to watch closely and be ready for the next switch. When we came to it, that child would pantomime the movement of throwing the switch for a train. When we entered one large locomotive cab, the engineer would take his place and pretend to be operating the train. My fireman would see where the coal was obtained and where the fire chamber was in order to add fuel. The switchman was shown where it was necessary to mount and dismount when a switch had to be thrown. These two also stood or sat in their respective positions, if it were possible. When we came to a passenger car, the conductor would assure that passengers were on board and then would call “All aboard!”
On board a passenger car, the children would see where people sat and where they went for a drink of water or go to the washroom. In the sleeping cars, they would be shown where they would sit in the daytime and sleep at night. In the office car, they could see the small quarters of the kitchen. This amazed them. Near the end of the tour, we had crossing warning bells that rang when we plugged in a cord. Here was another opportunity to teach safety. These are just a few of the things that transpired during a tour.
One coach was used in the segregation days. One end was reserved for African-Americans and Latin-Americans. These passengers could not ride in the other section, which was larger. Before entering the car, I would check with the teachers whether or not I should point out the segregation aspect. Whether the teachers were African, Anglo, or Latino, permission was given without restriction. Therefore, I pointed out the sections and that the practice had existed in the past, but now is against the law. With one class, I pulled out the African and Latino children and took them to the restricted area, while leaving all the Anglo children in the larger section. I advised them that, if they had been travelling on this train in the past, this division of their class would be made. They assured me that they did not like the idea, regardless of the section where they were. On another occasion, an African-American grandfather brought his grandson to the museum. He instructed me to tell everything about the cars. He apparently wanted the boy to know the history that he himself had experienced. Other African-Americans told me about relatives who had either ridden or worked on passenger trains. Only once was I questioned about the reference. One principal felt that mention of this might be upsetting to a little African-American girl in the class. I was really moved with my experiences and learned much in relation to this coach.
There are particular incidents that stand out. One of my favourites occurred with a group of grade four students. A colleague, Dr. Bob Muckleroy, was with me as he wanted to be a tour guide. One of the children had multiple sclerosis. Since he was in a wheel chair, we were concerned because the grounds were very uneven. However, some of the other children pushed the wheel chair. Bob and I carried him up the stairs to the locomotives and into the coaches. We set him into the engineer’s seat in the locomotive and onto a seat in a coach where others could not sit. Then, I carried him back to the wheel chair. I can never forget the beaming smile on the face of that boy. He was able to participate despite his physical problem.
Another unforgettable experience was the time when Sandy Sanderson and I shared a tour of physically and mentally challenged adults. We were apprehensive at the start. However, it turned out to be a wonderful experience for both of us. Another good experience came with the guiding of a group of seniors who were attending an Elderhostel session in Dallas. Once there was even a small group of preschoolers from ages two to five. It was interesting trying to adapt my words so that they could comprehend my description. I met so many wonderful children from various backgrounds, public schools, private schools, religious schools, and home schools.
When the state fair was on during the month of October, it meant long days for all staff and volunteers. I usually spent my time in the parlour car, telling visitors about it and what they should notice elsewhere further on in their visit. Both adults and children came. Sometimes they stood, and sometimes they sat. The groups were both large and small. I recall two girls of about twelve years of age, my only visitors at that time, who sat down and listened intently as I told about the car.
Late in 1992, Bob LaPrelle received a request from a Christian school in Lewisville for someone to make a presentation to the students in regard to trains. He offered me the task. Thus, I set up a short presentation for the school. Four or five groups came in consecutive periods into the room where I was at the school. Because the first group was late in arriving, the second group arrived before I had finished. As it turned out, each succeeding group heard the ending before they heard the beginning. Despite the problems, it apparently was a success. A few days later, I received thank you letters from one of the classes. In some of them, I was invited to come to their Christmas concert or to their dress rehearsal. After confirming the invitation with the teacher, I went back to the school on the day of the rehearsal.
Shortly after, I was invited to make a presentation to another Christian school not far away. This time, I was accompanied by Nancy Herring, who assisted in the presentation. She brought her model train collection, which she let me use at later presentations in the following June and July at libraries. The multiple showings were on time in this school, probably because the principal attended all of them.
Shortly after this presentation, I was telling about our experiences at the Rockwall County Library, where I was also volunteering. Cheryl Prince, the children’s librarian, asked if I would make a presentation there when the summer reading programme would be in session. I accepted, and then thought about going to other public libraries as well. Therefore, I visited a number of libraries to make appointments for June and July. The next job was to set up a programme. I chose to give the children an imaginary train ride back in the 1950s, based on my experiences and memory. With a computer, our son Sean made the official logo of a former railroad that operated out of Dallas. Alex Tice, publicity officer of the Union Pacific Railroad, gave me permission to use it. Over two years, he also sent me about 2,500 colouring books dealing with railway safety. These were given to the children at each showing. The second year, someone at Burlington Northern Railway headquarters gave me permission to use the official logo of another former railroad.
The presentation was somewhat different at the end from what it was at the beginning. I had chairs lined up to represent the seats in the day coach. In the second year, I had a few chairs behind those to represent the dining-car. There was a tape of the sounds of a train travelling through the night. There were recordings of the various whistle signals, which the children identified after I had demonstrated them on a wooden whistle. The riders purchased tickets with the official logo before entering the train. Two children handled the baggage and sat in the baggage car. One child went through the coach with pillows for rent for the night. Another child acted as a switchman, passing on signals from the rear of the train to the front around a curve. The rest of the children were spectators who waved good-bye to those on the train. An adult was the ticket agent. Another adult operated my sound recordings. For the second year, I presented a few slides to show the various types of railroad rolling equipment. I was the conductor and punched the tickets, dining-car waiter, and narrator. The children played out their parts well.
By the second summer, my equipment included the following: two suitcases for my travellers, two pillows, two tape recorders, tapes, a slide projector, slides, baggage claim checks, tickets, a railroad lantern, a conductor’s punch, two quarters for renting the pillows, colouring books, a conductor’s hat and a railwayman hat (for showing only), enough tickets for everyone whether or not a passenger, and (in the first year) a train model set. The trunk of my car was full.
At two libraries, there was a photographer from the local weekly newspaper. At one library, the librarian’s husband videotaped the showing as he did with other showings. I was able to obtain copies for ourselves and the museum. At one library, as I was collecting my gear at the end of the showing, the librarian and a few children were in the dining car having peanut butter and jam sandwiches. At another library, the children were so well-behaved and quiet that they could hardly participate with enthusiasm. If a child was accompanied by a younger brother or sister, the smaller child could go aboard free.
From December 1992 until October 1994, I visited five schools, two daycare centres, and forty-seven public libraries. The names of the libraries can be found on the library page that includes Texas. Space for the presentations ranged in size from a small corner of the library to a library auditorium. The librarians and the teachers provided very good cooperation. A performance was made before anywhere from eight to one hundred seventeen spectators. The total attendance, including some adults, at the libraries over the two years was a little over 2,800.
Since this section is about schools, I have devoted my description of the museum in relationship to my association with school groups and children, in general. Thus, the names of my colleagues listed here represent those who helped me with tours on the grounds and/or who accompanied me when I made presentations in public libraries and schools. Their help was much appreciated. I would particularly like to mention Bob LaPrelle, the director of the museum, who initiated my outreach programme; and Stanley Smith, the historical society’s president, who publicized my work at the membership meetings. Both provided much support for me. There are numerous other volunteers whom I knew at the museum who did other important work, but were not directly involved in my work with children.
The following are names of persons who specifically helped me at the museum.
- Charles Alspach
- Brian Blanchard
- Bob Diller
- Nancy Herring
- Doug Howell
- Bob LaPrelle
- Bob Muckleroy
- Bill Reiman
- Don Rutan
- Sandy Sanderson
- Stanley Smith
- Lee Stetson
The following are names of persons from the museum who helped me on at least one occasion in schools and libraries.
- Nancy Herring
- Doug Howell
- Garl Latham
- Stanley Smith
- Lloyd Stuck
The following are persons from our home who helped me on at least one occasion in libraries.
- Pamela Duff (my wife)
- Sean Duff (our son)
- Rocío Cárdenas del Castillo (our house guest from Monterrey, Mexico)
- Ma. Alicia Esparza Uribe (our house guest from Monterrey, Mexico)
- Hervé ? (our house guest from Monterrey, Mexico)
(This page was updated in October 2012.)