The museum is housed in the shops of the former St. Louis Southwestern (SSW) Railway Cotton Belt Route yard. The museum collection includes an impressive array of rolling stock, railroad memorabilia, and two steam-powered engines, including the last ever built in Arkansas.
In fact, the museum wouldn’t even exist were it not for SSW 819.
SSW 819 – Arkansas’ Last Steam Engine
Engine 819 was built in 1942 by the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company at a cost of $143,607. Today that would be over two million dollars! SSW 819 was top of the line for its time, pulling 100 freight cars with ease and averaging a mile per every 15 gallons of oil.
SSW 819 ruled the rails for around 12 years before being replaced by modern diesel engines. In 1955, the last steam engine built in Arkansas was moved to a park here in Pine Bluff, where weather and vandals began to wear it down.
In 1983, a group of concerned citizens, mostly retired Cotton Belt Railroad employees, decided to save SSW 819. They formed the Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society and set to finding the resources they needed to get the job done. Southern Pacific Railroad (now Union Pacific) donated space, tools, and materials. Other expenses were covered via private donation and fund-raising.
By 1986, SSW 819 had been returned to its former glory. Further, as work commenced on the engine, the effort expanded into the creation of the Arkansas Railroad Museum.
Visiting the Museum
The museum remains located in the same, historic Cotton Belt shops that SSW 819 was restored in. The building it is in contains over 70,000 square feet of floor space. More than enough room to display 17 tracks, two display rooms, and many fascinating displays.
Beyond SSW 819, engines on display at the museum include SSW 336, another steam engine, and a variety of more modern diesel engines.
Other cars on premises include vintage cabooses, a tool car, a guard car, and electric switchers. The museum grounds are also home to the only remaining steam-powered relief crane in the world, a six-car train that was used at derailment sites. The museum also has a working transfer table they sometimes use to move stock.
Exhibits include historical Arkansas railroad documents, memorabilia, a full-scale replica of a railroad depot, and lots more. There’s also a gift shop, with books, apparel, keychains, posters, model trains, and more.
Annual Railroadiana Show and Sale
There’s no bad time to visit the Arkansas Railroad Museum but one of the best times is during the annual Railroadiana Show and Sale. The show is typically held the first Saturday in April.
For 2020, the date is April 4th, 9am to 4pm.
The show sees all scales of model railroad cars and accessories, railroad memorabilia and collectibles, plus hourly door prizes. Don’t miss the train on this one!
The Arkansas Railroad Museum
1700 Port Road, Pine Bluff, AR 71601
Open 10am to 2pm, Wednesday through Saturday. Admission is free but please consider leaving a donation. As the museum has no climate control, extreme temperatures can affect operating hours.
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