The Roundhouse Podcast

National Museum of American History – My Visit

"America on the Move" Entrance

“America on the Move” Entrance

Washington D.C.  Our nation’s capitol has a long railroad history, so it is fitting that a significant portion of its “America on the Move” display is devoted to trains.

John Bull attracts a lot of interest from museum goers.

John Bull attracts a lot of interest from museum goers.

Before you even arrive at that exhibit, though, there’s a famous steam locomotive right before you:  the John Bull.  Built in 1831 and imported from England, this engine was one of the first operable in the country.  In 1981, it became the oldest operable steam locomotive in the United States.

Santa Cruz No. 3

Santa Cruz No. 3

Matching colors.

Matching colors.

Santa Cruz #3 does a fine job of representing early railroading.  As David Kloke recently said, 4-4-0 American locomotives helped to build our country.  This 3 foot gauge locomotive was built by Baldwin in 1876 and was used in Guatemala until as late as 1960.  The full history can be found here.

Capitol Traction Company #303.

Capitol Traction Company #303.

This streetcar sits in a very nice city street scene in the exhibit.  It was built in 1898 by the American Car Company of St. Louis and only used for about 14 years before being retired.  What makes this car interesting is that the electrical pickup is underneath the car since overhead wires were not permitted in Washington D.C.

As a more recent example of rail public transit, Chicago Transit Authority Car #6719 was built in 1959 and used by the CTA for over 30 years.  What’s nifty about this exhibit is that while you’re inside, the floor rumbles, the lights flicker, and a movie with actors plays at one end of the car (see photo).  There was one split-second moment where I thought I was riding it for real!

Southern Railway #1401.

Southern Railway #1401.

Ah, yes.  This is what I was most excited about seeing.  Built by ALCO Richmond in 1926, Southern Railway #1401 was used on the railroad’s Crescent Limited, specifically between Greenville SC and Spencer/Salisbury NC.  In 1945, it was one of the locomotives to pull President Roosevelt’s funeral train, and it was finally retired in 1953.  This is a beautiful locomotive to behold, and it introduces steam railroading to a public who might otherwise not come across it.

Next week, I’ll be sharing my trip from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh aboard Amtrak’s Capitol Limited.

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