Railroad Ties Transportation Museum fetes Tucson’s 244th birthday

The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum’s Southern Pacific 1673 locomotive was used in the film “Oklahoma.” (Photo courtesy Southern Arizona Transportation Museum)

By Laura Latzko

Although it was officially named Tucson in 1775, the city has a long history that has been shaped by Hohokam Indians, Spanish missionaries, ranchers, miners and settlers. Diverse groups of people have helped to make the city, which was once part of Mexico, what it is today.

The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum will commemorate this history with a 244th Tucson birthday celebration on Sunday, August 18.

The celebration will have multicultural Chinese lion dance and mariachi performances, live country music, appearances by Buffalo Soldiers re-enactors, a craft show, a proclamation by the mayor and a birthday cake.

The railroad, which came to Tucson in the 1880s, played a major part in the town’s growth and development.

Kenneth Karrels, chairman of the museum’s management board, says the celebration helps educate locals and visitors on Tucson’s multicultural history.

“You are giving history a future by doing this,” Karrels says.

The event shows off the railroad’s ties to Tucson’s history.

“It certainly makes people aware of the railroad and how important it was in changing the city and improving it,” Karrels says.

Karrels says the event often brings people out to the museum for the first time.

“They come down for the first time, and they are really surprised by how neat it is, how diverse it is and how much we have here,” Karrels says.

The event takes place in the Amtrak station of the main two-story depot building, which was once part of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Built in 1907, the historic building now houses the Amtrak station, shops and offices.

The transportation museum is located inside an old records vault building next door to the depot.

The museum will be open during the event. Inside the building, visitors can learn more about Southern Arizona’s railroad history and see railroad artifacts.

The current “Dinner in the Diner” exhibition features china and silver from Pullman trains.

One of the permanent exhibits showcases oral histories of people who worked in the railroad industry during the steam and diesel eras.

Visitors can also go inside the cab and ring the bell of the museum’s Southern Pacific 1673 locomotive, which was used in the 1955 film “Oklahoma.”

The locomotive was built in 1900 and has traveled about a million miles, mostly in Arizona.

Inside the museum’s gift shop, visitors can peruse railroad books, memorabilia and clothing.

Along with the birthday celebration, the museum offers guided tours and hosts special events such the Silver Spike railroad anniversary, National Train Day festivities, a lecture series in February and a Holiday Express celebration in December. 

Groups can also hold private birthday parties, weddings, anniversary celebrations or business meetings at the museum. 

The museum is always looking for volunteers to work at its gift shop or locomotive site. Those interested can find out more during the birthday celebration or contact the museum.   

more info

What: Tucson’s 244th Birthday Celebration

When: 11:30 a.m. Sunday, August 18

Where: Amtrak Station of Historic Depot, 400 N. Toole Avenue

Cost: Free admission

Info: 623-2223, tucsonhistoricdepot.org