All Aboard’ for Western railroads at ETSU’s Carter Railroad Museum

Published 12:53 pm Friday, August 28, 2020

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Museum reopens Saturday with safety measures in place
JOHNSON CITY — The George L. Carter Railroad Museum, located in the Campus Center Building on the campus of East Tennessee State University, will reopen on Saturday, Aug. 29, for Heritage Day focusing on the vast expanses of the American West.
The colorful and popular lines of the region west of the Mississippi will be highlighted on the reopening, which will be operated under the specific health guidelines instituted by the university. All visitors will be required to wear masks while on the ETSU campus and in its buildings, including the railroad museum. There will be directional signage in place to promote physical distancing and for safe traffic flow inside the galleries and corridors. The number of visitors will be restricted to 10 persons in each of the two galleries and time spent in the galleries will be limited to approximately 15 minutes in each.
A preregistration link is provided to encourage patrons to schedule a time to visit: For the added safety of all visitors, the Little Engineer’s Playroom will remain closed until further notice.
Following the completion of the first transcontinental route in 1869, western railroads crossed some of the most dramatic scenery in the world, resulting in the creation of specialized equipment epitomized by giant steam engines, multiple-unit diesels and huge landmark-level infrastructure works. Once finished, these passages stretched from the Canadian coast in British Columbia to San Diego, and Heritage Day visitors will be able to see replicas of some of these lines in action thanks to participating members of the Mountain Empire Model Railroaders club.
“Nobody can dispute the value railroads played in building a cohesive and united nation, many miles of which were created through rugged wilderness by teams of European and Asian immigrants looking to the new world for a better life,” says Geoff Stunkard, the museum’s Heritage Day coordinator. “This process gave way to immense opportunities through employment and agriculture, through business opportunities in raw materials and manufacturing, and through tourism to remarkable places like Yellowstone and Yosemite. Today, the breadth of the nation is still bridged by railroads.”
The aspect of tourism is not lost on fans of these lines such as the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific. In addition to amenities, they used style and color to attract potential customers, like the War Bonnet and Daylight paint schemes. The reality of rugged terrain meant highly developed horsepower units like the 4-8-8-4 wheel-arrangement of the Union Pacific’s Big Boy steam engine, the world’s largest, and experimental gas turbines that superseded them. Models of these trains are popular and some will be in operation by volunteers on the museum’s 24×44 foot HO scale layout.
The Carter Railroad Museum is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Heritage Day is held the last Saturday of each month. There is no admission fee to the museum, but donations are welcome.
The museum is also seeking artifacts for its displays, including the newest addition dedicated to the “Tweetsie,” which is open for guided tours during event days. In addition to the displays, there is also a growing research library, and an oral history archive is being established as part of the museum’s programs. For more information, visit
The Carter Railroad Museum can be identified by a flashing railroad-crossing signal at the back entrance to the Campus Center Building. Visitors should enter ETSU’s campus from State of Franklin Road onto Jack Vest Drive and continue east toward 176 Ross Drive, adjacent to the flashing RR crossing sign.
For more information about Heritage Day, contact Dr. Fred Alsop at 423-439-6838 or For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.

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