Indiana Transportation Museum and 10 rules for railway preservation

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Thursday, July 5, 2018

While we try to make sense of out of the eviction of the Indiana Transportation Museum from its home of 50 years and the resulting scramble to save locomotives and rolling stock from scrap that is underway as you read this (the deadline is July 12), let’s review basic realities of railway preservation. They should be universal knowledge, but maybe not.

1. Control your house. If you don’t own your own site, station, tracks, etc., you’re in danger.

2. Keep your relations with Class I railroad partners healthy. You may need a friend there one day.

3. Know your local community. That includes the government, the chamber of commerce, the visitor’s bureau, and any other organization that might be a help or hindrance.

4. Make sure your local community knows you, what you stand for, the good that you do, and the impact you make. Invite them in for a visit, a chat, and listen to them.

5. Network within the preservation community. In person at a Heritage Rail Alliance (the name of the merged tourist and museum groups) is best. Know someone at another two or three preservation places that you respect.

6. Manage your collection. A balance between ambitious and realistic is desirable.

7. You and your museum live in the real world. You’re not immune to egos, human foibles, and misunderstandings.

8. Have a plan A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. 9. Never forget that even though you are non-profit, you’re a still a business. Job No. 1 is staying in business.

10. Always remember you are there for the visitors.

I’m not saying the Indiana folks did or didn’t do any of the things above. I’m not saying they didn’t do the things necessary to stay at Noblesville or to make an orderly transition to a new home. But something did go horribly wrong. That is undeniable. We’ll find out more in the days and weeks ahead just what happened and hopefully lessons on how to prevent it from happening again.

What is happening in Indiana could take place again without eternal vigilance on the part of all of us in the preservation community. I’m trying to erase from my mind an image I viewed online Thursday. It is that of the boiler, wheels, and frame of Nickel Plate Road 2-8-2 No. 587 in Noblesville, Ind., being rolled outside so a trucker can haul it away to a safe haven. Chris Campbell and the Kentucky Steam Heritage group, which stepped in to save No. 587, posted it, and I am grateful that they did. It is a truly heroic moment. They should be proud of their service. We should all take satisfaction in it. It is also sad -- 29 years ago this month, I was photographing this very locomotive after it had run on its own power from Indiana to North Carolina. Yes, I said, Indiana to North Carolina. A long way. How it fell silent and how this museum came to be evicted are cautionary tales yet to be told. And my list above will grow once again.

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