Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Southeastern Railway Museum

What do folks think of most often when Atlanta comes to mind? The Georgia Aquarium probably or World of Coca Cola. Stone Mountain Park is undeniably an Atlanta institution and what would the City be like without  Six Flags Over Georgia......and of course there's Atlanta traffic (sigh) which at this point, probably requires a state site designation of its own.

I love living here because of the very broad range of things to do. Even more so, I appreciate Georgia because of its wealth of important historical sites and parks, the state having played host to innumerable major events throughout history from the time of ancient indian civilizations, through the American Civil War and more recently the civil rights movement.

The Civil War era in particular oversaw Atlanta's rise to dominance as the industrial, economic, political (no disrespect Richmond) and transportation heart of the Confederate States of Americal, making the city an important strategic target for federal troops. The transportation aspect of the city's past is my focus today.

It's hard to believe that with the horrendous traffic conditions we endure each day, that Atlanta had once been so important to every major railroad in the south. The city itself had streetcars, railroad access to various cities throughout the region and seemed to be a testament to successful, transit-minded urban planning. Fast forward 150 years, what the heck happened?

Looks like a character from a Disney/Pixar movie
Tucked away in one quiet little corner of Duluth, GA, is the Southeastern Railway Museum, supposedly Georgia's official transportation history museum (which is interesting because I really don't know anyone who's even heard of the place). One must cross an active rail line then down a gravel driveway to get in but once in there, you are immediately transported back in time.

Almost the first thing you notice is how loud the place is with freight trains going by all the time, and the museum's own tour train blasting a warning every so often.

You get a real sense of history not only though the sights, but the smells as well. The WWII era Army car seemed to smell faintly of gun powder, munitions and terrible food, the older 1920's passenger cars had a grit and a worn look to them that gave you a real sense of just how old they really were. I half expected to see a train robber on horseback from the heady days of the wild west.

I honestly couldn't have asked for a better place to visit, a venue that appealed to both my affinity for history, and the masculine need for heavy equipment and raw power. I found a broad range of exhibits covering not just rail history, but transportation in general (excluding aviation), featuring buses and taxi cabs from the fifties and sixties as well as early 1920s farm equipment, tractors, etc. The older buses  on display gave me an uneasy feeling as I considered the era they were from and the civil rights struggles they'd come to symbolize.

The stars of the show of course were the steam locomotives from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I was able to get up close to one in particular that almost felt like I was standing on a two-story building. You can never fully appreciate the true size of these behemoths till you see one in person.

I suppose it wouldn't be much of a train museum if you couldn't ride one right? My sentiments exactly. Thankfully for just a few dollars more, you do have the option of a 15 minute ride in full-sized caboose and there is even a mini-train for the kids. If like me, you have even a passing fascination with history and large mechanical objects, Southeastern might be worth a visit.

This photo does not do this locomotive any justice, it's far grander in person.

Southeastern Railway Museum
3595 Buford Hwy
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 476-2013

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