Located in Cheyenne, Wyoming is a majestic, historically significant building known as the Cheyenne Depot. The building, the last surviving example of 19th-century architecture along the Transcontinental Railroad, was designed and built in the Romanesque style. Distinct semi-circular arches, thick sandstone walls, large towers, and decorative carvings often characterize that style, which was developed in Europe and influenced by the structures of ancient Rome. Having all of these qualities, the Cheyenne Depot is considered by many to be the most beautiful railroad station in the United States.
Gifted to the City of Cheyenne in 1990 by the Union Pacific Railroad, this beautiful facility now houses the Cheyenne Depot Museum. More than a museum, it is an open book about the history of the Union Pacific’s influence on the development of Cheyenne as well as the whole of the American West.
Placing the story of the Union Pacific in context with that of local and western American history, however, is not the only focus of the museum. Steam, and diesel locomotives are complex, fascinating machines. Marvels of engineering, locomotives are not well understood by most of us, so the displays at this museum help us to understand how these multi-ton diesel-electric and steam powered beasts push themselves and million of tons of cars and cargo down miles of rail.
Start your tour by watching the Union Pacific’s video presentation of Last of the Giants, Volume II. The nearly one-hour video relates what railroad life was like through the stories told by the people who worked for the Union Pacific and the Cheyenne Shops. The servicing and roundhouse parts of the depot were operated around the clock, and the work was technically challenging and physically demanding. After you have seen it, those of you who have desk jobs will appreciate them more, and you will have a greater appreciation for what it takes to maintain and service these huge machines.
On the second-floor baggage room is the HO scale, model railroad. The layout, a work-in-progress, came from a mobile home of Harry Brunk. He evidently did not live in it, but, instead, used it as a place to build his epic train layout. Broken down and transferred to the museum in 2011, the model depicts the route from Golden, CO to Silver Plume, CO. In between, the trains pass through the Colorado towns of Georgetown, Idaho Springs, Forks Creek, and Black Hawk. Started in 1978, the line is still being constructed by members of the local model railroad club. Crafted entirely by hand, you will be dazzled by the realistic appearance of the buildings, automobiles, people, and numerous natural objects that appear along the tracks.
I said above that this is more than a museum; it is an open book. Take the time to read it. The vintage photos and informative placards tell us the role that Cheyenne played in realizing Abraham Lincoln’s dream of enabling freight and passengers to cross the country via the Transcontinental Railroad. Not only is the story of railroading in Cheyenne told here, but the museum also instructs us on how hard railroad life was, and continues to be.
Allow at least two hours for your visit to this museum. Read, learn, and interact. Following your visit, you can have lunch or dinner in the brewpub that is next door to the museum in the same depot. All in all, this is a museum worth a visit and your time. Make it one more stop on your museum road trip.