FEBRUARY/2006: Museum Progress Report

The goal of the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum Project is the establishment of a permanent institution where the rich history of the Reading Railroad will be interpreted and preserved for the enjoyment and education of the public.

The Reading Railroad served as a major force in the economic and social development of the Schuylkill River Valley for 138 years. It shaped communities and the environment as its branches stretched from Reading to the coal regions of northeast Pennsylvania, to Philadelphia, and beyond. The railroad was deeply interwoven in the lives of people throughout the area as it influenced industry, labor, and culture. At the present time, no institution interprets the significance of the Reading Railroad to the nation and to the lives of the people and communities it served.

The Reading Company Technical & Historical Society (RCT&HS) is developing the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum to display and interpret to the public the history and significance of the Reading Railroad. The museum will provide myriad interpretive and education opportunities, facilities for conservation or artifacts and historical research, mechanical facilities for the restoration of rolling stock, and passenger excursion service using heritage Reading Railroad equipment. The interpretive theme of the museum will be “THE READING RAILROAD SHAPED COMMUNITIES.”

The Museum Development Study specifies that the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum will consist of multiple elements, including four interpretive centers, a scenic rail excursion, a Technical Crafts Center and Guild, environmental conservation activities, and economic development initiatives. The interpretive centers will be located in Reading, Temple, Hamburg, and a location in southern Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. A scenic rail excursion using historic rail equipment owned by the RCT&HS will connect the interpretive centers and attract tourists to the Museum. The Reading Railroad Heritage Museum will also sponsor a Technical Crafts Center and Guild where craftspersons will maintain museum rolling stock while teaching railroad trades and museum skills to volunteers and students. The Museum will promote environmental conservation along the rail excursion line in partnership with other conservation groups. It will also offer economic development opportunities to businesses, municipalities, and other tourist ventures, either separately or in partnership with the RCT&HS.

Current Museum Progress

The current Reading Railroad Heritage Museum is located at the historic Reading Railroad freight station in Temple, PA. Passengers board rail excursions operated by the RCT&HS from the station several times each year. Historic rolling stock from the RCT&HS collection is displayed outside. Reading railroad displays are located in the station.

The Reading Company Technical and Historical Society has acquired a former industrial site in Hamburg, PA, which will house the largest interpretive center of for the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum. The site will house the RCT&HS’ extensive collection of historic Reading Railroad rolling stock, artifacts, and archives. The 7-acre site has nine former steel foundry buildings which are being adapted to museum use.

Members of the RCT&HS made progress in preparing the initial exhibit areas of the museum at our Hamburg site during 2005. The Pennsylvania DCED grant obtained through the efforts of State Rep. David Argall funded the installation of electrical and water service to the building. Lighting was restored in the exhibit room, existing restrooms and future gift shop. Extensive work to remove debris and excess equipment was completed by volunteers. Drawings and specifications for construction of the new archive rooms and new exhibit room were completed and are ready for bid. Initial construction and partial roof repair will be funded by DCED grants received through the efforts of State Sen. James Rhoades and State Rep. David Argall. The federal grant for museum education improvement obtained through the efforts of Sen. Rick Santorum has enabled the RCT&HS to hire Forge Marketing Communications of Allentown to produce our orientation video. The federal funding also enabled us to hire Marketechs, Inc. of York, PA. to design and produce the initial professional exhibits. Both the video and exhibit projects will be completed by summer, 2006.

With the partnership of the Reading and Northern Railroad Co., the RCT&HS operated excursions using our historic equipment on 20 days during summer and fall. Two educational trips to study the canals along the route, the Moonlight Specials which traveled to our Hamburg site for ice cream sundaes, World War II Weekend, the Halloween excursions and the Santa Claus trips were especially popular.

Continuing Challenges

Our continuing challenges for 2006 include museum development issues, excursion planning, insurance costs, volunteer recruitment, event promotion, and fund raising. An urgent need is funding for track at Hamburg. In addition, we have the exciting challenge of opening and maintaining museum services at Hamburg. Financial and volunteer needs are many, but the rewards are great. We hope that you will become involved in the development of the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum. Memberships at any level helps the work to move forward. Donations of professional services, building supplies, and labor are welcomed.The Reading Company Technical and Historical Society (RCT&HS), an all-volunteer nonprofit group of 1100 members incorporated in 1976, has aggressively collected one of the largest U.S. repositories of artifacts and equipment related to a single railroad. The comprehensive collection of over 65 pieces of Reading Railroad rolling stock includes significant examples of diesel locomotives, freight and passenger equipment, cabooses, a training car for engineers, and an entire wreck repair train. The archives include over 20,000 photographs and tens of thousands of blueprints and pages of correspondence pertaining to the railroad’s people, facilities, and operations. The vast collection of Reading Railroad artifacts includes tools, signals, signaling control consoles, a 100-foot turntable, and other Reading Railroad hardware.