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Rail News Home Mechanical

January 2015

Rail News: Mechanical

National Railroad Museum plots major capital campaign

By Julie Sneider, senior associate editor

Jacqueline Frank would like to see more hands-on learning at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wis., so that students studying math, science, history and art can observe how those subjects come alive in an industry that has long played an important part in their community.

To that end, Frank, the museum's executive director, and her staff will spend the better part of 2015 preparing for a major capital campaign with a goal of raising $15 million to $20 million to improve existing buildings, protect museum collections and build new facilities at the museum, which Congress declared a national museum in 1958. The campaign's proceeds will be used in part to build a large "Smithsonian standard" building that would allow the museum to house most of its rolling stock inside a climate-controlled environment, Frank says.

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One of the oldest and largest railroad museums in the United States, the National Railroad Museum, 2285 S. Broadway, is located on 33 acres on two sides of Dutchman's Creek. Its impressive collection of historically significant rolling stock includes the Dwight D. Eisenhower locomotive and two rail cars that the U.S. Army general and future president used to travel through Europe during World War II.

The museum's exhibit buildings include its 42,375-square-foot main climate-controlled facility, the 40,800-square-foot McCormick Pavilion and 2,000-square-foot Children's Discover Depot. Museum officials would like to double the size of the McCormick Pavilion's footprint to 80,000 or 90,000 square feet. The expansion would make room for more indoor storage of the rolling stock, some of which now sits in an open-air barn or in the yard and is exposed to the elements.

Frank also would like the museum's new building to feature an architectural design that would be an iconic symbol for the museum, much like the Burke Brise Soleil is for the Milwaukee Art Museum. The expanded facility also would contain additional educational space, including room for students and other visitors to view rail cars and locomotives undergoing restoration.

Expanding educational opportunities at the museum's facilities or through distance learning is a priority for Frank, who joined the museum staff in 2007 as educational director before being promoted to executive director in 2010. As described on its website, the museum not only offers lessons in rail history, it also teaches visitors how railroading affects their lives today. The museum's educational programming aims to reinforce school curricula in the so-called STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — as well as in history, art, writing and politics, says Frank, who has a master's degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

"A museum is an educational institution," she says. "I wish I would have come here when I was in high school and taking my advanced AP physics class so that I could have experienced first hand the application of physics in the real world."

Frank also hopes the museum's emphasis on STEM education might help attract a new generation of people interested in working for railroads. An industrial city, Green Bay long has relied on freight railroads to serve manufacturing plants and other industrial businesses. As Frank notes: "You can't go a day without seeing railroads in action in Green Bay."

Among the museum's permanent exhibits are a Pullman rail car that features the story of the Pullman Porters and their role in U.S. labor and civil rights movements; the Pennsylvania Rail Road’s GG-1 electric locomotive built in 1932 that inspired Lionel toy trains and has been featured on a U.S. stamp and dozens of paintings; the Union Pacific No. 4017 Big Boy, the world’s largest steam locomotive; the Bauer Drumhead collection of illuminated signs that advertised U.S. passenger railroads prior to Amtrak’s launch; and two GM Aerotrains, a 1955 prototype for a high-speed train.

The museum's permanent rolling stock includes the Anheuser-Busch Co. No. X locomotive, 10 various diesel-electric locomotives (including the U.S. Army Nos. 106 and 8651), 11 steam locomotives and dozens of cars that transported freight and passengers.

And then there's the Eisenhower locomotive, which was returned to the National Railroad Museum in May 2014 after a two-year stretch in England, where it was on display as part of a special exhibit, then subsequently cosmetically restored. The British government donated the locomotive to the museum in 1963 and it was delivered to Green Bay in May 1964. Former President Eisenhower dedicated the locomotive at the museum in September 1964. Last month, the museum acquired the locomotive's original number plate (No. 60008) from a source in England to replace a reproduction that had been on display, Frank says.

Recent temporary shows included a controversial look at railroad graffiti, an exhibit that explored the issue from the artist’s perspective — the museum even brought in two graffiti artists to discuss their work — as well as from the railroads' view of it as a criminal act of trespassing and vandalism. In the future, Frank would like to see a permanent exhibit of rail art.

Bigger and better facilities would enable Frank and the current staff of 11 full-time and six part-time employees and a host of volunteers to welcome more visitors: The museum currently hosts about 75,000 guests per year, with many coming from outside Wisconsin. Frank notes that she rarely sees Wisconsin license plates on the cars in the parking lot during the summer tourist season.

"Our visitors come from throughout the U.S. and as far as the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan," she says.

Frank and her staff will spend the first half of 2015 gearing up for the fundraising effort, which is slated to kick off in 2016 and end in 2019. A full-time staff member dedicated to fundraising was hired in 2013, and this year the museum expects to bring on board a firm that will run the capital campaign.

Frank hopes the effort will result in a more consistent stream of grants and donations, which currently fund about 20 percent of the museum's $1.6 million annual budget. The remainder of the revenue comes from admissions, gift-shop sales, warehouse lease and special-event income.

By 2015's end, Frank expects the site plan and new building details will be finalized. She and the museum's board have been working with an architect for over a year, and hope the end result will reflect the museum's national stature.


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