Essential Resources for Finding Great Railroad History

Old retro train with steam locomotive moves fast.
Old retro train with steam locomotive moves fast.

There is still a strong passion for railroad industry among enthusiasts all over the world. Video game simulations allow fans to step into the conductor’s shoes, vintage train museums give us glimpses into the past, and there is a growing volume of websites and forums dedicated to trains and their infrastructure. There is a certain freedom that trains provide, while they are tethered to their tracks. In fact, the romance of travel is inspired by trains, and all across the US there are railways that snake through the most scenic parts of this country. It doesn’t take much to find people in any city who are going to love learning about trains.

Here are a few of the places where you’re likely to find resources dedicated to trains.

Railway Museums

The California State Railroad Museum is one of many museums across the US that offers a unique glimpse into the history of railroads. California has a rich history with trains, and much of that state’s early development would not have been possible without them. The reason railway museums are so essential is that they provide a tactile experience. You can see and sometimes touch trains, and children can often board them and see their inner workings up close. Plus, the volunteers who staff these museums are quite knowledgeable.

Forums

A quick Internet search for “train forums” will yield a variety of resources, the top sites being Railroad.net and Trains.com. Railroad.net is for the real thing, although toys and games are also mentioned. Its threads are very active and well moderated, so newbies will feel welcome. Plus, regional threads invite users to question the community about history and other intriguing topics. It’s a resource you’ll want to come back to, even if you’re just using it to find answers.

Trains.com is a little less focused on real trains, although it’s divided up into sections for toys, games and the real deal. The site is a decent all around resource, also well moderated, but maybe not as serious as Railroad.net.

Look around and you’ll find even more forums, some that may feel more inviting and personal. It’s not uncommon to join more than one, so have fun exploring and seeking knowledge.

Historical Societies

The National Railway Historical Society is an important resource with lots of online reading materials. Dedicated to preservation and education, you may find yourself developing a very personal connection to these societies as you explore railways in depth. Often, supporting one has real benefits (like yearly gift packages and railroad related reading materials) that you might not otherwise find.

Bio: James Provence is a volunteer docent for the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. Archbishop James Provence retired from the church and has spent his time researching and writing about the rich history of the United States railway systems.

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