Ridgway Railroad Museum Named July 2021 RACC Member of the Month
What makes Ridgway’s railroad history special?
The town of Ridgway was founded by Otto Mears to be the headquarters and operations center for his Rio Grande Southern Railroad, which operated between Ridgway and Durango from 1891 to 1951. Although abandoned, among rail fans it is one of the most popular, most modeled, most researched, and most written about narrow-gauge railroads in the world, mostly because of the unique Galloping Goose railcars that were built and operated here in the 1930s and ‘40s.
How did the Ridgway Railroad Museum come to be?
In 1998, six area residents met to discuss establishing a museum to provide education and preservation of our railroad history, which was being forgotten by our residents, even though it was well known in the railroad history world. By 1999, the museum had been incorporated, followed by approval as a 501(c)3 nonprofit educational museum. Since then, it has built a national reputation as “the little museum that gets things done.” We have more than 250 members throughout the nation (and a few in other countries). We have grown from one railcar and a small corner of the visitor center to having the use of about seven acres, plus a 2,800-foot demonstration loop of track, three operational railcars, seven static railcars, an inside exhibit room, an extensive research library and archives, and many other artifacts in storage for when we occupy the historic depot building in the future.
As an all-volunteer-run organization, how do you create and maintain such an amazing collection and displays?
Our members are passionate about the subject, and there is tremendous interest in the Rio Grande Southern’s history worldwide. We are a “hands-on” museum; our active volunteers work one or two days a week at the facility and have contributed more than 25,000 volunteer hours in the last 20 years. We can always use more volunteers, both as docents and as workers.
Who are a few key volunteers who have built the museum to what it is today?
Hard to single out a few, at least 20 volunteers have all made significant contributions. Our key person would have to be museum Board President Karl Schaeffer.
What’s new with the museum?
With the recent installation of seats in the Rio Grande Southern passenger coach 252, we plan to complete restoration this year – it will be the only operational RGS coach in existence at this time. The recreation of RGS locomotive 36 is in the final stages of construction. While we do not have an estimated completion date (it is a BIG project and will be the first new narrow gauge steam locomotive built anywhere in decades), it is about 80% complete.
We are now fully located on North Railroad Street, with an indoor display room in the historic depot building currently occupied by the Ouray County Ranch History Museum (OCRHM). When OCRHM completes their new building on the property that is in the planning stage we will fully occupy the depot. We hope to have an announcement soon about an exciting new exhibit.
What are the museum’s hours and upcoming events?
The outside exhibits are available for self-guided tours 24/7. We have scheduled free rides every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through mid-October. These are very popular, with 650 riders so far this season through the end of June. Our inside exhibit in the historic depot building is available when OCRHM is open, Wednesday through Sunday. Our annual Ouray County Railroad Days will be September 23 to 26 in conjunction with Ridgway’s Old West Fest. There will be guided history hikes on Thursday and Friday, a model train layout visit on Saturday morning, a free talk on the history of the Galloping Geese on Saturday night, and free rides on Motor 1 and Galloping Goose 4 all day Saturday and Sunday.
How do you fund your activities and how can people contribute?
The outside exhibit area is always free and open for self-guided tours. Because the inside exhibit room is in OCRHM, they charge a modest entry fee, but that is their fee, the railroad museum don’t get any of it. We rely on donations, memberships, grants, and sales of books, hats and posters.
What do you value from being a Ridgway Chamber member?
Visibility within the Ridgway area business community and also exposure and promotion that the chamber provides to the world at large.
For the location and other information about the Ridgway Railroad Museum, go online to www.ridgwayrailroadmuseum.org or email . You can find the museum in Ridgway at 200 N. Railroad St.
For information about museums in Ridgway, go to https://ridgwaycolorado.com/businesses/museums-education.