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Behold 100 years of rail history at the National Railroad Museum

The infamous Aerotrain, the massive Big Boy and more at this museum in Wisconsin.

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Geoffrey Morrison
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On, Wisconsin!

The National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin features classic engines and railcars from the past 100-plus years. Here's a look around. 

For more info about the museum and the many amazing trains within, check out my tour of the National Railroad Museum.

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Big Dwight

The Dwight D. Eisenhower, named the Golden Shuttle before WWII, is a Class A4 steam locomotive. Streamlined and powerful, it was one of the fastest trains of its day.

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An A4

Designed and built in England, the Class A4 trains worked the East Coast Main Line, between London and Newcastle. It's a route I took with a newer train on my way to Spain.

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Big wheels keep on turning

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.

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Steam power

One A4 hit a steam train record of 124.5 mph.

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Dwight's coaches

Attached to the locomotive are a series coaches from General Eisenhower's command train while he was in England.

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Wartime

Not overly lavish, but also not spartan. This car was restored with armor plating, similar to what it had during the war.

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Big Boy

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4-8-8-4

The 25 Big Boys were used to haul freight over the northern Rocky Mountains, and were the only trains to use the 4-8-8-4 wheel arrangement, 

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Electric streamliner

This is the fully electric GG1 that was built for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

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Long life

Despite being built in the '30s and '40s, GG1 trains remained in service until 1980.

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Steam to electric

The steam engine on the right was in service for nearly 20 years after the introduction of the electric engine on the left. 

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War engine

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.

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Mr. Plow

It's not too hard to figure out what this is. It was built in 1910 by the Russell Car and Snowplow Company.

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Cozy

Inside the snow plow car is surprisingly cozy. It is not, as it may first appear, a locomotive. 

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View

The stairs on the left exit onto the roof of the car for what I would assume was a commanding, and chilly, view.

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Pullman

This is the Pullman sleeper car Lake Mitchell, built in 1920.

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TV optional

Inside it looks much as it would have when it was in service.

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Outdoor shed

Even more fascinating trains are in the museum's other train shed, including the main reason I'm here. It's the Aerotrain!

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Aerotrain

The Aerotrain was a lightweight and streamlined trainset designed by the General Motors Electro-Motive Division in the '50s.

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Classic GM

It certainly didn't look like any other train of that era.

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All GM

The idea behind the Aerotrain was to leverage products built across GM's businesses for a fast, inexpensive, and futuristic-looking train. 

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Unloved

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." 

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Not a bus

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.

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Rock Island

The three prototypes were sold at a steep discount to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, which ran them for eight years. 

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Looks alone

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. 

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An attempt was made

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.

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Santa Fe via Duluth

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. 

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A 506 for freight

The 506 was built by the American Locomotive Company in 1919 and was used to haul freight. 

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Railcars

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.

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Sleeper

This one spent its life on the Great Northern line.  

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Dome Diner

Connected to the sleeper is a Union Pacific Dome Diner car. I'll get to the dome part in a moment. This is the kitchen.

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Classy eats

It's a step up from the dining car on the train I spent riding 39 hours from Los Angeles to Seattle on Amtrak's Coast Starlight.

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City of Los Angeles

This Dome Diner was part of the City of Los Angeles that ran between LA and Chicago.

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Quite a view

Upstairs there was seating for 18 with a view that was surely excellent. Many of the modern long-distance Amtrak trains have observation cars with a similar design.

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End of an era

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.

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Big 10

This is the Santa Fe 5017, a 2-10-4 Texas type, built in 1944.

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Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe

The 5017 was rated at 5,600 horsepower.

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Soo Line

The Soo Line 2718 is another local locomotive, having spent most of its life on the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad.

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C&O

The 2736 is a Chesapeake and Ohio class K-4, built in the 1940s. It was used for both freight and passenger service, mostly in the northeast. 

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"Steam" train

The Sumter & Choctaw 102 is a 2-8-2 steam locomotive that's actually powered (or, well, pushed) by diesel engines built into its retrofitted tender.

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Boxy

I believe this is an ALCO S-2. There was no info about it there, or on the museum's website.

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Outside

While most of the museum's trains are in sheds, a few sit outside in the harsh Wisconsin winters. Between downpours I squished my way across the grass to capture a few. Here are an ALCO 430 (left) and an EMD GP30. Both from the 1960s, they ran on local lines.

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Wisconsin Central

This SD24 spent most of its life on the Wisconsin Central line.

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National Railroad Museum

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.

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