Learning Railroad History in Toppenish, Washington

img_7129_lucidWe spent a lovely long weekend in Yakima Valley for our anniversary, tasting incredible wine, eating amazing food, and exploring a new part of Washington.

On Saturday we had an entire day of wine tasting planned in the Rattlesnake Hills wine region and knew we would need some other activities to break up all our winery visits.

I found a few things to do in the nearby towns of Zillah, Union Gap and Toppenish. These explorations allowed us to have a great (and responsible!) time tasting wine with breaks in between to explore something else before returning to our tastings. It was a perfect balance that let us see more of the area while thoroughly enjoying our tastings without overdoing anything.

While there were only a couple of things on my list for Zillah and Union Gap, we spent a good amount of time exploring Toppenish.

The city was founded in 1907 and still looks and feels like a western pioneer town. We walked around downtown for a while, admiring the 70+ murals around every corner that tell the history of the area.

There weren’t too many people along the streets or in the shops so we were free to stop and comment on the old buildings, wondering what they used to house and what purpose they serve today.

Around one corner we came upon a small green space with what looked to be a grave marker. In fact, it was a marker directing you to the actual grave– giving you some directional information so you could find the site! I had never seen anything like it!

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We wandered around town for a little while before heading toward the railroad tracks to check out the Northern Pacific Railway Museum. The website appeared a bit grassroots so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was interested in the history.

The depot was created in 1911 and for 50 years was the central hub of the community. After passenger and freight rail declined the station stopped functioning until the community eventually stepped in to preserve the depot and turn it into a museum.

As we walked over the tracks toward the depot, we noticed balloons and some kids and what appeared to be a kid’s birthday party. We didn’t want to interrupt and couldn’t see where you were even supposed to enter the museum so we decided to simply wander around and take some pictures.

As we passed by what appeared to be a rundown building, a younger man stepped outside and called to us, asking if we’d like to see an old train they were restoring. We both answered, “Yes!” and followed him into the dimly lit building and through a hallway to an open room.

Later we remarked that this probably wasn’t a sound decision and could have been the beginning to a Hollywood feature on our disappearance, but at the time we were excited and he appeared harmless.

Luckily none of this was a concern–he led us straight to an old steam engine they were restoring! He was excited to learn that Brian was an engineer and while I took pictures from the platform overlooking the train, he and Brian walked around it, pointing out different things and talking about the work underway.

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I walked down alongside it and out the back garage doorway and onto the tracks and couldn’t get over its size and solidity. It’s incredible thinking about how they were engineered before much of the technology we have available today, and it’s even more fascinating to me how much they revolutionized human life–around the globe.

It makes me really happy to see them restoring this engine and preserving an important aspect of our history.

We bid farewell to our friend and walked out along the tracks to see some of the other engines and cars stored near the museum.

Many of the engines had placards so we could read more about them, and I also appreciated the old signals, mailbag holders, etc. they had on display, many of which were used in Toppenish.

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There were several other guys working on a smaller car along a side track, and it’s obvious they make as much progress as they can with their team of volunteers.

There is a great deal of restoration work underway and it would be neat to come back once they have some of the other engines running and available for visitors to experience.

We headed from the tracks toward the station to take a look at some of the other items on display outside. There was mail truck in really good condition, a few other vehicles and some restored benches and waiting areas.

I especially loved the old luggage!

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After our outdoor tour we headed indoors and realized where we were supposed to have entered the museum. We paid for our admission and then wrapped up with the inside portion of the tour.

I didn’t mind doing it backward– we would have never gotten the sneak peek of the engine from our friend– but I didn’t want them to think we were trying to get out of our admit fee!

The indoors is still very much the way it was. There’s a restored waiting area, restrooms and ticket office, and some of the originally items are on display.

I loved looking at all of the signage, tickets, and other items they’ve collected from all over the U.S., and was especially excited about the signage from the station in Bucyrus, Ohio!

We spent way more time in Toppenish and the railway museum than I had anticipated, but it ended up being a really great experience and opportunity to learn more about how important rail was to this community, the state of Washington and our nation

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One thought on “Learning Railroad History in Toppenish, Washington

  1. Pingback: Yakima Valley Wine Country: Rattlesnake Hills | Heather's Compass

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