The Raymond F. Ratcliffe Transportation Museum, Pulaski, Virginia

What is the Raymond F. Ratcliffe Transportation Museum?

Some of you are saying, “Well, duh!  It is a museum about transportation.”

Yes, it is about transportation.  No, it is not as big as the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia or The North Carolina Museum of Transportation in Salisbury, North Carolina, but it has a special uniqueness.

Some of you are saying, “That is very unique, but we have never heard of Raymond F. Ratcliffe.  How does this museum get the name?”

That is a very good question.  Who is Raymond F. Ratcliffe.  No, it is not a name of someone they pulled out of a hat.  To answer the question, we must first talk about the town where the museum is located.

The town of Pulaski, Virginia was incorporated in 1886 as Pulaski City, and it was a small town at the center of commerce and industry in the region, and the railroad played a major role in the establishment of the town.  The museum is named after the town’s thirteenth mayor, Raymond F. Ratcliffe.  Before he was mayor, he worked at numerous industries in the region, and he played a role in the town playing a major role in the region.  Although the town never became a major industrial city like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania or Birmingham, Alabama, it was still the center of the coal mining industry and the steel industry in the region.  He wanted to create a museum to remember the town as a center of industry.  After his death, the Raymond F. Ratcliffe Memorial Museum, after numerous controversies, was established.

Today, you can visit the Raymond F. Ratcliffe Transportation Museum and see photos and exhibits about a town that once was.  You can see old cars on display, and you can see the Doctor Milton Brockmeyer ‘O’ scale model train display that displays the town back in the days of Mayor Raymond Ratcliffe, and you can see the Willie Ryan ‘N’ scale model train display.

The Raymond F. Ratcliffe Transportation Museum, also known as ‘The Ratcliffe’, tells the life of a small town in the southwestern region of the U.S. state of Virginia and how transportation to include the railroad played a major role in the establishment of this town.  If you are an out of towner, you will appreciate this museum and have a great appreciation of small town life.

The Raymond F. Ratcliffe Transportation Museum is located in a shopping center at 51 Commerce Street (at U.S. Route 11) in Pulaski, Virginia.  Parking is on site.  You can get more information on admission, hours, and read more into the history of the museum and more into the life of Raymond F. Ratcliffe at https://www.theratcliffemuseum.com/.

Come to the town of Pulaski, Virginia.  Learn about small town life and how the railroad played a role in the town.

The Rhode Island Avenue Trolley Trail, Riverdale Park, Maryland

In the old days, trolleys strolled through cities taking people throughout the town.  Today, trolleys are mainly a thing of the past as very few cities use trolleys anymore.  Most trolleys today are found in museums across the country.

Like many old railroad lines, some of the old trolley routes have been converted into hiking/biking trails.  One of those trails is the Rhode Island Avenue Trolley Trail in College Park/Riverdale Park, Maryland.  The trail gets its name, of course, from Rhode Island Avenue which once ran continuously into the District of Columbia.  (Road alterations cut the road off in Hyattsville with a railroad bridge over the now CSX line.)  The trail runs on the City and Suburban Route 82 which connected the people of the suburbs to the District of Columbia.

Today, many people either walk, ride a scooter, or ride their bike along the route.  It is mainly paved making it easy for those in wheelchairs to enjoy.  With parts of the trail running close to the CSX line (originally the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad), you may be fortunate to see a passing train.  Regardless, you will be feeling the history of the trolley with each step.

Tunkhannock Viaduct, Nicholson, Pennsylvania

There are many magnificent bridges around the world.  Some of the bridges are for pedestrians.  Some are for automobiles.  Then you have those magnificent railroad bridges.

Welcome to the town of Nicholson, Pennsylvania, a small town in the northeastern region of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.  What is so great about this town?  When you visit this small town, you will notice an amazing engineering marvel.  This marvel is the Tunkhannock Viaduct.  (It is also known as the Nicholson Bridge getting the name from the town and the Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct from the creek this bridge crosses.)  As you stare at the bridge, you will be amazed at huge arches on the structure.  You will not be thinking that it has been said that it is the largest concrete bridge in the United States of America and possibly the world, and you will not be thinking that this bridge is designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  You will be awestruck as you look at the bridge.

The building of the bridge was completed in 1915 for the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad creating a more straighter route between Scranton, Pennsylvania to the south and Binghamton, New York to the north with passenger and freight trains.  Today, the Northern Southern Railway run only freight trains on the bridge today.

The Tunkhannock Viaduct is located in the town of Nicholson, Pennsylvania on the south side of the town.  It parallels U.S. Route 11 across Tunkhannock Creek.  It is easy to see as you approach the bridge, and there is an overlook on the south side of the bridge.  The great thing is that there is no admission to see the bridge and it is open twenty-four hours a day and every day of the year including holidays.  Be warned.  When you visit Nicholson, Pennsylvania, you will be amazed.

The Labor Train

The Train on Display at the Arcade and Attica Railroad in Arcade, New York, U.S.A.

The Labor Train is coming to town.

It begins with the locomotive.

You have the engineer car.

You have Chief Executive Officer car.

You have the conductor car.

You have the baggage handler car.

You have the secretary car.

You have the freight handler car.

You have the yard worker car.

You have the ticket master car.

You have the porter car.

You have the cleaner car.

You have the mechanic car.

You have the accountant car.

You have the human resources car.

You have the marketing car.

You have the salesman car.

You have the track workers car.

You have the superintendent car.

You have the manager car.

You have the historian car.

You have the record collectors car.

You have the museum curator car.

You have the volunteer car.

And you end with the caboose.

To all of you who work on the railroad, thank you all for keeping the trains running.

The Walnut Street Depot, Roanoke, Virginia

The city of Roanoke in the southwestern region of the U.S. state of Virginia is a city that not too many travel writers talk about.  Nestled in a valley, it has been called ‘The Star City of the South’ as it is the home of the largest man-made star in the world.  The city is a rail fan’s haven as it has the main line of the Norfolk Southern Railway passes right through downtown.  Until recently, it was the home to the Norfolk Southern Railway shops (now closed) which were originally owned by the Norfolk and Western Railway.  In these shops, the world famous Norfolk and Western Railway Number 611 was built, and it is the only surviving ‘Class J’ locomotive in the world, and it remains one of the most popular locomotives in the world.  The city is the home of the O. Winston Link Museum. Housed in the old Norfolk and Western Railway Train Station, it houses the collection of, of course, O. Winston Link who was the last know photographer of the steam locomotive, and his favorite locomotive is housed nearby in the Virginia Museum of Transportation which is housed in an old railroad freight house.  Being a city built around the railroad, the city did not have Amtrak passenger service for many years until a few years ago when a station platform was built, and the city now has regular passenger service.

Before the Norfolk Southern Railway came to the city, it was the home to two competing railroads.  The first was the famous Norfolk and Western Railway whose train station now houses the city visitor center, the O. Winston Link Museum, and the Museum of Southwest Virginia.  Then you had a lesser known railroad known as the Virginian Railway.  They were out popularized by the Norfolk and Western Railway who reached into the U.S. states of Ohio and Kentucky.  The lesser known Virginian Railway mainly ran between the coal mines of West Virginia to the port of Norfolk.  They too ran passenger service, and they also had a depot in Roanoke.

Just a short drive from downtown on a line that spurs from the main line is the Walnut Street Depot.  It was here where the Virginian Railway served the people of Roanoke with regular passenger service.  The name of the depot comes from Walnut Street which crosses the railroad tracks just north of the depot.  It is considered to be the most substantial brick depot to serve the city.  During the decline of railroad passenger service in the 1950’s, this depot was a victim of that decline with passenger service ending in 1959, and the railroad was merged with the Norfolk Southern Railway.  It is one of the few surviving train depots of the Virginian Railway, and it is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Today, only Norfolk Southern Railway freight trains pass here, but if you are ever here, you may feel like you are in the past.

The Walnut Street Depot is located on Williamson Road SE, and it accessible from Jefferson Street SE.  The depot is part of a small historic park that memorializes the Virginian Railway.  The depot is not open to the public.  Parking is available on site, and the park is open twenty-four hours a day.

Welcome to Roanoke, Virginia, a haven of railroading, and a city that remembers its other railroad.

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The Rockville Bridge, Rockville, Pennsylvania

The Rockville Bridge crossing the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

The U.S. state of Pennsylvania is one of the oldest states in the nation.  It is a state rich in historic sites to include Independence Hall in Philadelphia where the Declaration of Independence was signed.  The capital of the state is the city of Harrisburg.  The city is not considered as one of the top tourist cities in spite of the fact that there are many great places to see here.  For those of you who are chocolate lovers, you may be familiar with the city’s most famous suburb, Hershey, which has been called ‘The Chocolate Capital of the World’, and chocolate is shipped around the world from this place.

The city is situated on the Susquehanna River, the longest unnavigable river in the nation.  As you visit the downtown area, you will notice the city’s many spectacular arch bridges.  Upriver from downtown is Fort Hunter Park, and it is here where you will find a special bridge.

The Rockville Bridge crosses the Susquehanna River north of downtown Harrisburg, and it was built at the site of two former bridges.  The original bridge was a wooden trestle, and the second was a steel truss bridge.  The Rockville Bridge that occupies the place today was the third bridge built at that location by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1902.  It is still an active bridge today but under the ownership of the Norfolk Southern Railway and is also used by Amtrak.

What is special about the Rockville Bridge?

The bridge’s name comes from the suburb of Rockville on the east side of the river where Fort Hunter is located.  It is made with stones hence the name ‘Rock’ Ville, but the real name comes from the town.  The claim to fame of the Rockville Bridge is that it is the longest stone masonry arch railroad bridge in the world.  If you visit Fort Hunter Park, you can sit on the shore and get a great view of the bridge.  As you take a look, you will be amazed at stones in the arches as the mighty river flows through.  If you are fortunate enough, the Norfolk Southern Railway and Amtrak may reward your experience by crossing the bridge.

The Rockville Bridge is five miles (eight kilometers) north of downtown Harrisburg.  It is accessible from the west side of the river by way of U.S. Route 11 north of Interstate 81 and from the west side of the river by way of U.S. Routes 15, 22, and 322 north of Interstate 81.  (Please do not trespass on private property.)  The Rockville Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is registered at a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

The Hotel Roanoke, Roanoke, Virginia

The city of Roanoke in the southwest region of the U.S. state of Virginia is a city with an association with railroads.  It was the hot bed of the Norfolk and Western Railroad and the Virginian Railway.  The city visitor center is located in the old Norfolk and Western Train Station which was a semi-grand train station in its heyday, and it also houses the O. Winston Link Museum that displays photos of the last known photographer of the steam locomotive in the United States of America.  It was here where many locomotives were built to include the world famous Norfolk and Western Railway Number 611, the only surviving Class J locomotive.  It is also the home of the Virginia Museum of Transportation which is housed in an old Norfolk and Western Railroad freight house.  The great thing about Roanoke is that the main railroad line runs right through the heart of downtown.  Now if you wanted to visit the city of Roanoke and need a place to stay, you have the luxury of staying in the Hotel Roanoke which is across the street from the Visitor Center in the old train station.  A stay in the Hotel Roanoke will truly compliment your visit to this city.

Some of you are saying, “This is very interesting.  The city of Roanoke, Virginia is one of the best railroad cities in the United States of America, and it just happens to be the birthplace of the Norfolk and Western Number 611, one of the finest locomotives ever built.  The Hotel Roanoke, well, is a fancy hotel, just like any other hotel.  It has nothing to do with the railroad.  Therefore, I will not be spending a night at this place.”

The Hotel Roanoke is a hotel.  It is built in a Tudor Revival style like the structures you will find in Europe.  Is it simple a hotel like any other hotel?  Well, what is special about the Hotel Roanoke is that it was built by the Norfolk and Western Railroad.  It was under the ownership of the railroad until it was donated to a Virginia based university.  Whether you like railroads or not, you will appreciate the style the hotel has to offer, and, if you are fortunate enough, you can get a room the overlooks the main railroad line and watch train roll by all day, and all night too.

The Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center is located at 110 Shenandoah Avenue.  It is a short drive from Interstate 581 and U.S. Routes 11, 220, 221, and 460.  You can get more information about the hotel at https://www.hotelroanoke.com/contact_us/.

So when in Roanoke, enjoy the trains and the railroad sites.  Visit the O. Winston Link Museum, the Visitor Center, and the Virginia Museum of Transportation.  Watch the trains roll through downtown.  When you get tired, spend a night at the Hotel Roanoke.  The Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center is on the Virginia Landmarks Register and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Those Old Train Stations: the Central Railroad of New Jersey Train Station in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Old Central Railroad of New Jersey Train Station in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

The city of Bethlehem in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, a city settled by the Moravians, has a long history as a steel city.  Although steel is no longer produced in this city, the old factories remain and is now a museum.  Being a steel city, it also has an association with the railroad.  Although the Norfolk Southern Railroad now passes through the city, Bethlehem also had passenger train service.  Although the city had a ‘Union Station’, the Central Railroad of New Jersey built a train station in 1873 to compete against the Lehigh Valley Railroad which ran on the tracks that are now owned by the Norfolk Southern Railroad today.  The three story train station served passengers until 1967.

Fortunately, the train station was spared from demolition as it was converted into a restaurant, and it remains a restaurant to this day.

The station is located 61 W. Lehigh Street next to the Lehigh River Park just east of the Pennsylvania Route 378 Bridge.  Parking is available on site.  You can get information of the restaurant at http://www.thewoodenmatch.com/.

The Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad Locomotive, Patee Park, Saint Joseph, Missouri

When you think about the city of Saint Joseph in the U.S. state of Missouri, you think about the Pony Express.  When you visit the city, you can see the statue of a Pony Express rider and visit the Pony Express Museum.  It was the eastern end of the famed messenger route that carried mail west from Saint Joseph to points west of the Missouri River.  Situated between Omaha, Nebraska and Kansas City, Missouri, it is a small city with many museums and historic sites to include the home where the famed outlaw Jesse James was shot.  Even if you are a big city person, Saint Joseph has so much to offer.

Now some of you are saying, “This is nice to know about Saint Joseph, Missouri.  I have never heard of the city before.  However, unless there is something about trains, I have no interest in this city.”

As mentioned, Saint Joseph was the eastern terminus of the Pony Express.  The reason for the Pony Express: the railroad went no further west that the city of Saint Joseph.  It was not until after the American Civil War that the railroad was built across the Missouri River into the western frontier.

That is not all.

Being one of the main cities of the Pony Express, it is also the home to the Pony Express Museum.  Across the street is Patee Park, a park that marks the starting point of the Pony Express.  In this park is where you will find a Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) steam locomotive.  The locomotive operated on the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad until it was retired in September of 1957, and it was donated to the city in April of 1962 by the Burlington Northern Railroad.  During its heyday, it was used for freight and for passenger service.  Today, it rests in this park to mark the contribution that the railroad made to the Pony Express.

Patee Park is located at 10th Street and Penn Street in Saint Joseph, Missouri across the street from the Pony Express Museum.  The park is accessible day and night.  While here, visit the other many sites that this small city has to offer.

The Durham Museum, Omaha, Nebraska

You hear about many museums in many cities across the United States of America.  If you ever visit the city of Omaha, Nebraska, the Durham Museum is one of those museums that you must see.  The museum depicts the history of the western frontier of the United States and the history of the Omaha region.

Now some of you are saying, “That is nice to hear about this museum, but Omaha is not on my bucket list of cities to visit.  Besides, since this museum has nothing to do with railroads, I have no interest in this museum.”

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Durham Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.  As you pull into the parking lot, you notice something familiar.  Yes, it is next to a major railroad line, but you notice something else.  Yes, it looks like a train station.  That is because the Durham Museum is housed in the former Omaha Union Station.  The parking lot is just the scratch of the surface.

You enter into the museum, and you see the vaulted ceilings in the same way many train passengers saw it when it was a working station.  You walk past the old ticket windows which now houses the museum gift shop.  You see the old benches where passengers sat as they waited for the trains to arrive.  There are many statues of people set up in the way that the passengers would have looked back in the train station days.  As you walk around, you are taken back to a time where railroad passengers filled the station.

There is more.

You go downstairs to the area where the trains once pulled in and out, and you see trains.  Well, these trains are on display to show how it looked as passengers boarded and de-boarded.  It features a Union Pacific Caboose, the 1243 steam locomotive, a streetcar, passenger cars, a parlor car and model train displays.  The trains may no longer pull in and out of this station, but they are still here at the Durham Museum.

The Durham Museum is located at 801 10th Street at the 10th Street Bridge.  It is next to downtown Omaha minutes from Interstate 80.  You can go to www.durhammuseum.org for information about admission and for museum hours.

So, is Omaha on your bucket list now?  It should be, and make the Durham Museum a park of your visit.