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“Good museum, poorly informed staff”

Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum
Ranked #2 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.
Reviewed October 11, 2013

This museum is very well done.
However the young lady who sold admission tickets and was the gift shop person knew nothing about the railroad history. A well informed staff who can interact with visitors makes a visit memorable. Suggest better training for the staff.

1  Thank Jemmie33063
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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177 - 181 of 238 reviews

Reviewed September 27, 2013

This place was great! Enough interactive stuff and dioramas to keep the youngsters happy, too. Very informative exhibits on community life, the Pennsylvania Railroad itself, and what working conditions and jobs were like in the many different depts. The exhibits I found most interesting were about the Research and Testing Lab - lots of studies into how was the best way to do just about everything the railroad was involved with, even how to get the most out of the oranges squeezed for juice for the dining car! Another interesting exhibit told about how/why the PA RR was so late in converting from steam to diesel power. The yard outside has several antique rail cars on display, but I ran out of time to see them. Admission is included with your ticket to Horseshoe Curve, but supposedly costs something if you're just at the museum, altho there was no one at the desk when we went.

1  Thank Quasimama
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed September 10, 2013

Museum is well laid out. Take the elevator to the 3rd Floor and work your way down to the First floor. Terrific layout on display,,, Too bad there is no train running on it. The outdoor exhibits were well laid out. On the negative side......my wife could not find a spoon holder or a trivet to buy. She felt that women were being left out.

Thank backroadbill
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed September 3, 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.

Thank Tim M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 30, 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)

3  Thank BrettBusang
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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