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“Very insightful!”

Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum
Ranked #3 of 23 things to do in Altoona
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Owner description: A museum celebrating the history of the railroad in industrial America.
Halethorpe, Maryland, United States
Level 4 Contributor
29 reviews
9 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 9 helpful votes
“Very insightful!”
Reviewed 3 September 2013

This was a very good museum that really did a nice job immersing you in the history of the Altoona area in terms of it's contributions to the "Pennsy" during the rail "heyday." The exhibits were well detailed and there was a good mix of actual artifacts, dioramas, information, and videos. I also thought they did a very good job organizing the floors related to the various aspects of the area's rail history. I also liked their emphasis on the people that were the backbone of the rail industry back then.

Visited September 2013
Thank Tim M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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224 reviews from our community

Visitor rating
Date | Rating
  • English first
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English first
Washington, DC
Level 2 Contributor
8 reviews
6 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 13 helpful votes
“The Backbone of a City, Region, and People: The Railroader's Memorial Museum”
Reviewed 30 August 2013

The Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona, Pennsylvania chronicles both a local story and an American one. After the 1850's, railroads began to dominate, not only our transportation landscape, but our economy as well. Men in search of jobs began to populate the hills and valleys of Southeastern and Central Pennsylvania, moving along with the railroad right-of-ways to Pittsburgh and beyond. Many of them stayed in Altoona, where a burgeoning industry was being shaped in their midst. They signed on as laborers, stokers, couplers, and shop-assistants. And, as the industry grew, their prosperity grew with it. In its heyday, Altoona was the biggest railroad hub in the world, employing upwards of fifteen thousand people in its repair shops, manufactories, and testing facilities.

Given such a staggeringly large canvas, the Altoona Museum has broken things down into broad strokes, telling the story of its rise and fall in terms of the people who worked there. The theme is established when one enters the main room, which shows, in capsulated form, the life of The People, Carl Sandburg's People, who washed their clothes, hung them out on lines that stretched between tenements, dodged street-cars, worked twelve hours a day, and had a little fun when the pressure wasn't eating at them and they had a little money in their pockets. Political correctness, in the form of a female employee - something largely unknown - and a black porter fronting a passenger locomotive, is somewhat jarring, but it peters out at the second floor.

Most museums give us specimens and timelines. This one wants to immerse us in the everyday quality of life in a city that hit the ground running, but was forced, when steam gave way to diesel, to cut back and, finally, surrender. But did it have a time in between!

On the second floor, we are given a newsboy's view of Altoona life, which was covered in soot and busy as a bee-swarm. Though the newsboy is a video creation, he is based on an Altoona resident, who provided his story to an oral history project. (It was "re-written" for the actor who played the boy.) It is charmingly immediate and "gets you there" in a hurry. The lives of factory workers are mirrored in the houses they lived in, with their sparse, but clearly coveted, amenities; the clubs they joined; the baseball and football outfits that were raised from among the athletically gifted; the parades and festivals; the after-hours drinking; and the thriftiness that was expected from each and every man jack who showed up in the morning - or was on call and ran to an assignment when he got one.

I would highly recommend the twenty-minute film, Altoona at Work, which is as dignified a tribute to a hard-working town as may exist anywhere on earth. It was created by *Peter Vogt, a gifted filmmaker on whom the greater meaning of working hard and doing good have not been lost. His image sequences of a locomotive, as it gets up a head of steam, is unusually striking. Rather than provide us with a panoramic view, the footage concentrates on the sinewy parts of the thing – the wheels and their drivers – and lets us marvel at the coordinated precision of so many parts created by so many people.

A bar conversation, which utilizes the same format as the newsboy narrative, provides us with a sneak-peak at a bunch of guys blowing off steam (as it were) after a hard day’s work, such as happened in countless places, big and little, across the nation. Behind a cut-glass breakfront, with its smoky-wood medallions, one man recounted the story of a fellow worker’s death – a coupler who was caught between cars and was essentially cut in half. Before he died, his wife was summoned along with the priest would read him his last rites. Though it is “merely” history, it is a harrowing moment caught precisely, and without straining for pathos, by a group of actors whose grandfathers could very well have been those men.

Outside of the museum, past a turntable that was part of the roundhouse that’s being replicated some yards away, are various passenger cars that have seen better days. It is not only sad, but vaguely sacrilegious, that so few of them are left – considering the fact that, in Altoona’s heyday, fifteen hundred engines were kept running at the shops. Some six or seven cars are all the museum has to show for all of that effort, that heyday, that sacrifice. If nothing else, we might consider that our throwaway society’s recklessness is not confined to plastic bottles. It encompasses everything we, as a country, have made, used, and discarded.

*Of Peter Vogt and Associates, Washington, DC

The Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum is located at 1300 Ninth Avenue/Altoona, PA 16602
Call or email for schedules and hours of operation, which are seasonal:
(814) 946-0834. (Its Toll-free number is: (888) 4ALTOONA)

Visited August 2013
3 Thank BrettBusang
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
West Virginia
Level 6 Contributor
95 reviews
15 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 32 helpful votes
“One Thing Missing”
Reviewed 12 August 2013

Took my kids here and they loved it except they did not have any moving toy trains. Other train Museum's I have been to have had this that the kids could control. This is why I did not give it a excellent rating.

Visited July 2013
3 Thank WV71
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Level 5 Contributor
61 reviews
13 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 13 helpful votes
“It was worth the trip.”
Reviewed 1 August 2013 via mobile

The museum was set up to go to 3rd floor first. Had a choice of elevator or stairs. Some of the exhibits were activated by motion detectors and others were hands on. They have a toy train setup for kids as well. The place is family friendly. Also, traveled to the horse shoe curve which was included for the price of $10.00.

Visited August 2013
Thank 15Dutches
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Port Matilda, Pennsylvania
Level 5 Contributor
51 reviews
10 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 26 helpful votes
“Nice train museum”
Reviewed 30 July 2013

I went here recently with my four-year old. I wasn't sure what to expect and whether it would be appropriate for young children. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I think train buffs of all ages would like this. The exhibits are quite good. Some of the exhibits are interactive so my son was having fun. It isn't a huge museum. We spent about an hour here. Some people might spend more time if they're reading all of the exhibits. My son has a shorter attention span so we went quickly through the museum. There are some cars in the train yard but only one that people can go in. Unlike others, I had no problems with doing the museum and the Horseshoe Curve in a single day. We'll go back again!

Visited July 2013
Thank sarahbethe
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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