Story & photos by Mark Crudup
The evolution of trains – not to mention the basis of Tempe’s current transit system—wheeled its way into the Tempe Historical Museum during the recent opening of the Trains in Tempe exhibit.
Cowboys dressed in authentic Western gear led visitors into the new exhibit, while others rode from the parking lot to the entrance in a small-scale train.
“We really focused on the Salt River Valley and Tempe in particular,” Brenda Abney, Tempe Historical Museum manager, said. “We discussed why trains first came to Arizona, and then we did an historic overview of the trains that came to the Valley in 1887, all the way up to future endeavors, such as the streetcar.”
Kids, wearing conductor hats and other train worker garb, sent messages to each other using Morse code and interactive maps and explored railroad stations and bridges previously operated in the Tempe area.
“This is how they used to send texts,” Shannon Reid explained to her two children, who perused the old telegraph station.
The Tempe Historical Museum will also add displays throughout the year, including kid activities in June and July.
Other artifacts on display included vintage uniforms, authentic-china dining sets used by passengers, bells, lanterns, old train tickets—even a rifle used in an original shooting from a cowboy skirmish.
The grand opening of the exhibit was introduced by Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s official state historian, who briefly reviewed the history of trains and the impact it had on the area.
“It was Sept. 29 of 1887 when the first train came into Arizona,” Trimble said. “We went from walking 4mph to going 25mpg.”
Visitors during the opening of the Trains in Tempe exhibit enjoyed some acoustic blues performed by Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold, a guitar and banjo duo. Cowboy performers with the Jake n’ Jane Wild West Shows entertained families and kids, while taking photos throughout the event.
“The history is just really fun for adults, and the interactive area was perfect for him (her son),” Tempe resident Brooke Wolfe, who attended the exhibit opening with her husband and kids, said. “It’s was a lot of fun and we love coming over to the library with our kids.”
The Trains in Tempe exhibit will be displayed through October 2017, and is located at the Tempe Historical Museum on the southwest corner of Rural Road and Southern Avenue.
For more information, visit www.tempe.gov/museum.