Tucson's historic railroad museum is a honkin' hidden gem

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Jake Croft | The Daily Wildcat

A locomotive stands outside the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum on Thursday, Aug. 27.

Tucson is a city that is home to a plethora of great attractions found all over its map, many of which can only be discovered with a keen eye and word-of-mouth advertising.

Tucsonans love to discover these hidden gems.

For those who are new to Tucson and seeking to explore the sights of the city, or for those who have lived in Tucson and wish to visit more of these hidden gems, the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum is one to put on the list.

The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum is a railroad museum that serves to showcase the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in Tucson on March 20, 1880.

On March 20, 2005, the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the railroad, the Transportation Museum opened with the helping hand of Mayor Bob Walkup. Located downtown on 414 N. Toole Ave., the museum is a restoration of the former Southern Pacific Railroad Depot’s records building.

Southern Pacific locomotive No. 1673 is on display in the museum and the engine is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The locomotive is 115 years old. It’s also featured in the movie ‘Oklahoma!,’ which was filmed here in Elgin, Arizona in 1955, the same year the engine retired from service and eventually made a residence in Himmel Park in 1962,” said museum board chairman Ken Karrels. “The locomotive was then moved to its current site in 2000 at what shortly became the museum.”

Near engine 1673 is a statue of Wyatt Earp with a description that recognizes his involvement in a revenge shooting that took place near the depot.

The Transportation Museum hosts an annual Silver Spike Celebration that commemorates the arrival of the Railroad on March 20.

Other events are held at the museum and at engine 1673, such as birthday parties, weddings and business meetings. Visiting without a group is free, but reserved tours cost $6 per person. Ask about student discounts.

The museum’s Facebook page boasts many rave reviews from tourists.

“If you love history, this is the place to be. Listen to the whistle and bell of the trains going by; be a part of tomorrow’s history today,” reads a review by Marty Robbins on the museum’s Facebook page. “I give a 5 Star Rating to the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum,” Robbins said.

For UA students, directions to the museum from campus are provided on the museum’s website, tucsonhistoricdepot.org.

“What makes the museum a hidden gem is that, though it’s compact in size, it tells the story of how Tucson has changed in terms of transportation over roughly 100 years,” Karrels said. “You see the street car that runs the streets now, and it’s remarkable.”

The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. On Saturdays, the engine of the locomotive is open for the public from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays.


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