The A4 trains were capable of incredible speed for their day. Normal service routinely reached over 90 mph, and occasionally over 100 mph. Both remain impressive, even compared to many modern trains
The big wheels are 6 feet, 8 inches in diameter.
Attached to the locomotive are a series coaches from General Eisenhower's command train while he was in England.
Not overly lavish, but also not spartan. This car was restored with armor plating, similar to what it had during the war.
Despite being built in the '30s and '40s, GG1 trains remained in service until 1980.
The steam engine on the right was in service for nearly 20 years after the introduction of the electric engine on the left.
This steam engine is as US Army 101, built for service in WWI, and then used in WWII and Korea. After the Korean War it stayed there for service with the country's national railroad. It was gifted back to the US in the late '50s.
It's not too hard to figure out what this is. It was built in 1910 by the Russell Car and Snowplow Company.
Inside the snow plow car is surprisingly cozy. It is not, as it may first appear, a locomotive.
The stairs on the left exit onto the roof of the car for what I would assume was a commanding, and chilly, view.
This is the Pullman sleeper car Lake Mitchell, built in 1920.
Inside it looks much as it would have when it was in service.
Even more fascinating trains are in the museum's other train shed, including the main reason I'm here. It's the Aerotrain!
It certainly didn't look like any other train of that era.
The idea behind the Aerotrain was to leverage products built across GM's businesses for a fast, inexpensive, and futuristic-looking train.
After touring the prototypes around the country, GM offered the Aerotrain's to different railroads for testing.
After extensive testing and trial runs, all of them said "hard no."
The locomotives were underpowered, requiring other locomotives to assist in hilly areas. The carbodies, essentially repurposed GM bus shells (I bet you can't unsee that), were ill-suited to the task. Their bus suspensions and short wheelbases resulted in a bouncy, unpleasant ride.
The three prototypes were sold at a steep discount to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, which ran them for eight years.
Despite being designed for 100-mph service between major cities, the terrible ride and mediocre performance relegated it to low-speed commuter routes in the Chicago suburbs for the few years it was actually in service.
I'm not sure if the Aerotrain concept was a good one, or if it was just GM bean counters trying to make money first and a product second. Regardless, it's one of the coolest train designs ever.
A far more successful design is this 2-10-2 Santa Fe type, which served on the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The 506 was built by the American Locomotive Company in 1919 and was used to haul freight.
Farther into the shed there were some rather spooky-looking cars. The pounding rain and thunder outside from a midsummer storm added to the atmosphere.
This one spent its life on the Great Northern line.
Built in the mid-'50s, the dome cars were the pinnacle of rail travel class, but the writing was on the wall. Cars and planes were already shrinking passenger rail travel to almost nothing. Only a few dome cars remain.
The 5017 was rated at 5,600 horsepower.
Train museums are a fascinating glimpse at machinery vital to the modern world, yet too often they're forgotten behind flashy jets and ubiquitous trucks and cars. But the National Railroad Museum does a great job presenting the evolution of the technology through the many classic engines and railcars.
For more info about the trains at this museum, and our tour, check out my tour of the National Railroad Museum.