As part of an engineering convention this past week, I had the opportunity to either take a tour of the St. Louis Museum of Transportation or spend three hours listening to someone talk about 3D modeling software.
Guess which I chose?
From recent comments about the tour of the W.P. Chrysler Museum, published the day before I took this tour, it appears a number of you have been to the St. Louis Museum of Transportation. Whether you have been there or not, many displays keep changing and evolving. So sit back and let’s take a trip.
With my being part of a tour group, we were given a guided tour by Mr. Eastin, a retired English teacher and, as I would later discover, a member of the museum board. Mr. Eastin is in his mid-70’s and has been associated with the museum since he was a teenager. His overwhelming knowledge of the outside exhibits was both captivating and intoxicating; he relayed much more information than what could ever have been conveyed on the simple signs near each exhibit. My hope is to accurately convey what he so thoroughly shared with the group.
Plans for the museum began with a group of physicians in the early 1940’s. At the time, no transportation museum existed in the United States. The founders were met with skepticism by many as, at the time, nobody could comprehend why that were interested in “old junk”. I would counter these gentlemen were true visionaries.
The founding and growth of the museum garnered attention by others. When working there as a teenager and into his early 20’s, Mr. Eastin stated a gentleman wearing a white dress shirt and glasses would spend two to three days there each summer. Mr. Eastin was always curious as to who the man was. He would later discover it was the director of transportation from the Smithsonian Institution; it seems this gentleman was very interested in the success of the museum, as he was concerned its failure would cause all the displays to be given to him – and he didn’t want them!
Were there trains? You bet, so let’s start with those.
Mr. Eastin stated there are fifteen locomotives at the museum which are the sole survivors of their specific type. This steam engine, the famous Norfolk and Western 2156, is not the biggest locomotive ever (or at the museum) but has the distinction of being the most powerful steam engine left in the world. On of the famous N&W Y6a class of 2-8-8-2 four cylinder compound engines, it ultimately had a tractive effort of 166,000 pounds. In a famous 1952 test of steam vs. diesel power, these locomotives were shown to be the equal of a set of four EMD (GM) FT freight diesels in power and efficiency. They operated until at least 1959, and given all the coal the N&W hauled, it was only the maintenance costs that finally caused them to be replaced by diesels.
Originally one of thirty-five, 2156 is the sole survivor of its class, commonly considered to be the ultimate evolution of the big American steam locomotive. Weighing 500 tons, he said this was also one of the most difficult to deliver to the museum. While the museum is still able to access active track a few hundred feet from their location, getting this locomotive across the Mississippi River almost caused a calamity.
The boiler was inoperable at the time of delivery; therefore, a pulling locomotive was attached to the front with another in the rear to allow braking. Mr. Eastin said at the time of delivery, there were thankfully still watchmen at the Eads Bridge in St. Louis. When stopped on the Illinois side, the east side watchman learned the combined weight of the three units; he knew this amount of weight would cause a bridge failure in the first span and all would have likely wound up in the river. After some degree of better planning, the combination was split apart for the crossing and rejoined for the remainder of the trip to the museum.
Mr. Eastin told us the Katy Railroad was one of the few railroads in the United States to not go into receivership during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. He also stated the Katy Railroad was the first railroad to reach Texas (what part, I do not know) as well as the first to reach the reservations for Native Americans in the southwestern United States. For the 75th Anniversary of the Katy Railroad, the company had an ice cream tour that started in Central Kansas and ended at Union Station in St. Louis. This is the train used and it was delivered to the museum after the celebration. Mr. Eastin said this was donated as an entire train; most items are donated as separate pieces.
What was most interesting about these train cars is the arrows from the Native Americans were still stuck in the roof at delivery. The arrows have been removed for preservation and will be replaced upon the train being stored indoors.
Here’s the biggest steam locomotive ever built in the world, the famous UP “Big Boy” Class 4000 freight locomotive. This 4-8-8-4 articulated monster locomotive was delivered to Union Pacific at about the time the decision was made to ultimately convert all locomotives to diesel. Designed to haul freights over the tough Wasatch grade, they ultimately pulled trains up to 4,000 tons over the 1.14% grade without a helper engine, and did so until they were withdrawn from mainline service in 1959.
Mr. Eastin explained, steam locomotives were an every other day type of engine; you used it on Monday but had to clean everything up on Tuesday so it could roll again on Wednesday. The conversion to diesel was not based upon fuel efficiency, he explained; rather, it was a matter of overall efficiency as one locomotive could run continuously for days and weeks on end with minimal maintenance. Always before you needed two locomotives for a given route due to the need for maintenance.
This engine was so powerful, and loud, it was kept in rural parts of the western United States. Mr. Eastin said the amount of smoke, noise, and ground vibration made by this particular engine prevented it from being used around any population centers.
We were told by Mr. Eastin the relationship between Union Pacific and the City of St. Louis was a strained one at times in the past. The museum, a not for profit entity, was not receiving a warm reception from Union Pacific when looking to acquire this locomotive. One of the museum board members, an executive of Ralston-Purina, called someone with Union Pacific to again seek this locomotive. The Union Pacific representative stated it would never happen. The board member said that was fine, but inquired if Union Pacific enjoyed transporting Ralston-Purina products and stated their relationship need not continue. The locomotive was delivered soon thereafter.
The museum does have automobiles, covered later in this article, but trains are a goodly percentage of what they have. Mr. Eastin stated the number of “rail-philes” they host is phenomenal and their knowledge is breathtaking. A few years ago, he hosted a number of German tourists. Upon their arrival, they immediately asked about the Daniel Nason, the oldest train in the collection.
Mr. Easton said their knowledge of the Daniel Nason was quite formidable, as they even had a strong idea on where within the museum the train was located.
Sadly, we were on a tight schedule that didn’t mesh well with the number of trains on display as well as our desire to hear more from Mr. Eastin. So here are some more pictures of various train exhibits.
I have a Lionel train manufactured in 1957 whose engine looks a lot like this one.
Here’s a better look at the sign. It’s one of the original EMD FT demonstrators, that proved the effectiveness of diesel freight locomotives and brought on the huge wave of dieselization. Remember, it took four of these to equal Norfolk and Western’s 2156 seen above.
The Pacific Northwest sure seems to be a recurrent theme on Curbside Classic, doesn’t it? This is just one instance.
The St. Louis Museum of Transportation consists of two buildings, the lobby / gift shop and the automobile collection, with the rail exhibits all being outside. During the tour of the trains, a member of our party had sought warmer surroundings due to the chilliness in the air. At the conclusion of the tour, he was not in the gift shop, so I volunteered to find him. I shot straight toward the automobile building hoping to find him but in reality aiming to get these pictures.
Once inside, a whole new and wonderful spectacle presented itself. Please note the lighting in the building and the angle needed for some pictures was far from optimum; these pictures have been adjusted to get as much detail as possible.
When the W.P. Chrysler Museum article was published (the day before I took these pictures, so I’m thinking CC minds are often on the same wavelength) we were able to get a good look at the interior of the Chrysler Turbine. While the constraints didn’t allow for interior shots, I was able to….
…get some underhood shots! This example is fully operable and is the only operable Chrysler Turbine car on public display. According to the museum and its website, this car will operate on kerosene, white gas, or anything flammable.
It should be noted Chrysler wasn’t the only manufacturer to ever produce a gas turbine powered vehicle. During a previous trip to the museum, there was a late 1950’s era Ford road tractor on display that was powered by a gas turbine. There is more information on this Ford here.
Michigan and Indiana are both noted for their automobile manufacturing history. Missouri, specifically St. Louis, deserves inclusion in such consideration. By 1929, there had been 29 different makes of automobiles produced in St. Louis. These makes were well represented at the museum.
The oldest, and least creatively named, is the St. Louis automobile built by the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company. This example is a 1901 model powered by a 7 horsepower engine having 123 cubic inches of displacement.
When the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company disbanded in 1905, co-founder George Dorris started building his own automobile, the Dorris. There were two examples here. First was this delivery truck.
There was also this coupe.
Here’s a closer look at the Dorris’s engine.
The front of the two Dorris examples were quite similar with the coupe being a 1917 model and the delivery truck a 1919.
Also built in St. Louis was the Moon, again with two examples on display. This four-door is a 1923 model,
with the two-door being of a comparable age (I failed to document its model year). The sedan sold for $2,095 and had 58 horsepower.
While I didn’t capture the ’57 Chevrolet or the ’65 Mustang, I did snag a picture of this 1921 Cadillac Suburban, one of only 1,130 Cadillac’s produced for the 1921 model year. It’s sticker price was $4,990. This Cadillac certainly has some patina, but not as much as
this Pierce motorcycle. From 1907 to 1913 the Pierce motorcycle was produced as an offshoot of Pierce-Arrow. This example is a 1912 model.
Here’s a closer look at its four-cylinder engine.
Many collections have an example of a Stanley, and the St. Louis Museum of Transportation is one of them.
Seriously, isn’t the engine compartment absolutely fascinating?
There was another display that prompted some serious thought. One common theme in so many comments on Curbside Classic is the homogeneous look of contemporary automobiles. But how have the interiors changed – specifically the instrument panel?
These provided hard to refute evidence of how the instrument cluster has devolved from something special into something rather unimaginative.
My very first published submission to Curbside Classic was an article on Route 66 in the south central part of my state. This display is part of the old Coral Court motel, a staple of Route 66 in St. Louis, an establishment that toward the end of its run combined hourly rates with its trademark garage. What do you think has occurred behind these relocated walls?
Spending two hours at the St. Louis Museum of Transportation is not nearly enough. Mr. Eastin, with whom I have been corresponding since my visit, is a wealth of information who successfully turned static train displays into dynamic forces of man’s ability to channel brute strength onto two solid rails. He told me another 20 hours is needed to do the trains justice, and he is correct. The sheer amount of history contained in this museum is mind-boggling.
One item of note about the museum’s location: It is easy to access but it quite off the beaten path. There is no likelihood of one simply stumbling onto it. Even someone such as myself who is not a train fanatic will have a much heartier appreciation for them after a visit here.
This was at least my third time there and likely not my last. Like repeated trains from the Pacific Northwest, you just never know what you will find there.