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 Post subject: A new persepctive...
PostPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2008 2:25 pm 

Joined: Wed Jun 06, 2007 11:46 am
Posts: 203
Location: here, there, wherever
I've been marked up with the railroad for a little time now, and I thought I'd go visit the local rail museum. I actually interned there, and did a little volunteer work until school and work got int he way. Needless to say, my working on the extra board does not leave much (any) time for museums anymore.

Anyhow, I did have a little time so I paid it a visit. This was my first visit in 2 years (that long already?) and first since I started working the rails. I guess the old saying "you can't go home again" is true, but nevertheless, here are some observations that I had:

Quietness. Amazing how quiet engines are when shut off. And they just don't look right with the headlights on and no noise. I know the Smithsonian has sound for the southern engine they have, but do any other groups do this? One of the coolest scenes for the railroad is stepping out of the engine at a siding and seeing the train, in the evening light, churgling, chanting, humming, spit valves spitting. It is just not right to see them all dead.

Newness: I understand that good paint and shelter is necessary but I have only had a handful of engines that were somewhat clean and shiny. And even those had a nice coating of dirt on the bottom with the "words of the people" written via finger on the fuel tank. And the cab wasn't open, but I know that it is way too clean. No bottles or crewpacks floating around, no bootprints on the windows, all the stuff that makes it a locomotive.

Airhoses: I just wanted to hop in there and lace up the cars.... but I suspect they would frown on that.

Signs: all the typical - "this car was special and great for this special and great railroad" Yeah, I know this is what 99% of the visitors are here to see, but sometimes I wish we could have tailored tours on Ipods or PSPs. Perhaps one for RRers, one for fans, one for John Q, etc.

Other than that - the place was deserted, with no guides in site. I used to love rail museums and this one in particular - but after that trip - I was left with the feeling that everything changes. Of course instead of looking at the cars themselves, I was looking at control valves, pistons, and handbrakes. And reading the sign of a certain type of locomotive does not compare to hearing my one old-school hogger talk about running them as we cruised through the NJ darkness. With the success of TV shows like "the deadliest Catch" and "Ice Road Truckers", I believe there is room to tell about the people behind the machines. After all, those shows are not about fishing or trucking - they are about the people.

Just some random thoughts on a random day.


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 Post subject: Re: A new persepctive...
PostPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2008 3:38 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 8:50 am
Posts: 489
Location: Columbia, MD
Zugman,

Your post was an interesting read. As a professional railroader, you have a totally different perspective than that of the average museum visitor. But the cost of making all those locomotives operational again is beyond the resources of anyone but Bill Gates.

I think your idea of a tour for special interest groups is good. When I was touring the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris this past September, you could borrow a headset with recordings in about six languages. Perhaps the same idea could be used, substituting different tour texts for languages. You could have a tour on the history, the mechanics, or how they impacted the lives of railroaders and the community at large.

Thoughts anyone?


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 Post subject: Re: A new persepctive...
PostPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2008 5:05 pm 

Joined: Wed Jun 27, 2007 10:57 pm
Posts: 247
Location: Birmingham, AL
I can remember many years ago when I visited the California RR museum I was really struck by the huge SP cab foward that was on display. As I was wondering to myself what it must have been to operate one of those over the Donner Pass, an old hogger who had done that came up and told me what it was like. I'll never forget how interesting that was. Unfortunately many of these old timers have passed away and many of their stories are lost forever. Too bad they couldn't be captured and available to hear at such displays.

Another thought...
When I visited Carlsbad Caverns eons ago they had hand held speaker thingies for self guided tours that would pick up transmissions for points of interest. There was one for adults and one for children that operated on different frequencies. Probably a costly thing to install, but soemthing like that would be nice.
My ramblings for a rambling day.

Bill


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 Post subject: Re: A new persepctive...
PostPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2008 5:50 pm 

Joined: Wed Jun 06, 2007 11:46 am
Posts: 203
Location: here, there, wherever
Thanks Mr. Gillespie.

I do realize we would need the economy of a several small countries (or Walmart) to bring these beasts back in service. Bu t for an example... this museum has a EMD road engine. I wonder what the costs would be to put some decent speakers in the exhaust stack for engine sounds, speakers by the spit valves, maybe even a speaker behind a carbody for that rattling effect, one in the cab for the radio, and one for the crews whining and BSing!

The other day I was at a industry working as a brakeman. When we were done, we were going back inside to the office when one of their employees (a railfan and really great photographer) came to us and told us about the wreck out near Pittsburgh. And he had photos of it on his Playstation PSP. Really nifty - and perhaps has possibilities? We could have tours with photos, audio, maps and video.... all tailored to the individual.

I know the problem will be $$$$$, but still something to think about, IMO.


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 Post subject: Re: A new perspective...
PostPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2008 6:31 pm 

Joined: Thu Jun 16, 2005 11:54 am
Posts: 609
The sound effects we are talking about here are routine stuff for model railroaders every day of the week. Only the amplification and speaker requirements are different. I have seen numerous HO and O scale layouts where locomotives are idling at engine terminals with all the appropriate audio. They even have sound effects for ALCOs now that include the characteristic hunting of the 244 engines. Just put it through an amplifier and into a bigger set of speakers.

MX

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 Post subject: Re: A new persepctive...
PostPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2008 10:18 pm 

Joined: Thu Oct 19, 2006 1:18 am
Posts: 418
Location: San Francisco
The personal music player idea is a good one. A lot of art museums produce audio tour podcast that visitors can download for free and listen to on their own ipods (or other players). I would be concerned about the average railroad museum's ability to produce quality audio tours. There is a lot of decent software out there (some of which comes with your computer, if you purchase a certain brand), but there is probably a bit more to producing a successful tour than easy to use software. Anyway, distribution is easy, and visitors bring their own audio devices. This is the future.


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 Post subject: Re: A new perspective...
PostPosted: Sun Jan 13, 2008 2:00 am 
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Location: Pac NW, via North Florida
Yeah, but if you put sound effects into cold engines, someone would be griping here about how wrong that is...


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 Post subject: Re: A new persepctive...
PostPosted: Sun Jan 13, 2008 2:12 am 

Joined: Sat Sep 04, 2004 10:54 am
Posts: 910
Location: Tucson, Arizona
I would think that many organizations have a wealth of talent, some of which they may not be aware of. One thing to consider would be working with an organization such as a local television or radio broadcasting organization to produce a quality, tailor made audio guide. There are a few organizations that will do that type of work as a community benefit program. Many broadcasters have local interest programs or newscast segments that might do something like this on the side.

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 Post subject: Re: A new persepctive...
PostPosted: Sun Jan 13, 2008 11:37 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 9218
Location: Somewhere north of Prescott, AZ on the Santa Fe "Peavine"
That may well be the future, but until more of the format wars are ended, a less techy solution may be in order:

A sound system installed at the stand where the info on the loco is posted, with a push-to-play digital sound clip of a minute or five of appropriate sounds--idling, an articulated thundering by with a train, O. Winston Link's recording of the N&W J in service, the inside of a commuter coach in service, a run of the trolley between stops, the steam whistle, whatever.

Most importantly, to prevent total sound cacophony, put the push buttons on a time delay, so that they can only be played an appropriate number of times apart--the big steamer leaving the station only once every 30 minutes or an hour, the 15-second 14-L of the whistle once every 10-15 minutes, etc. Make it special and something people sit and pay attention to. Otherwise, you'll have the cacophony of the kid blowing the whistle every five seconds for twenty minutes--been there, seen it (with a display trolley's "clang-clang" bell).

You could essentially build a bunch of these from discarded boom boxes, to be honest. Just rig a digital input and break up the components to be discretely hidden where needed.


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 Post subject: Re: A new persepctive...
PostPosted: Mon Jan 14, 2008 1:00 am 

Joined: Wed Jan 19, 2005 1:52 pm
Posts: 57
Location: Newton, NJ
A couple of the railfan-type rangers and I have kicked around an idea for Steamtown National Historic Site that wouldn't cost too much money to implement and would be one of the greatest interpretation exhibits anywhere. We figure that with not a whole lot of trouble, we can bring the Steamtown roundhouse to life. Step one would be to get the non-appropriate stuff out of there -- a roundhouse was used for quick repairs and maintenance, not as a shop, so any disassembled steamer needs to be put elsewhere. Ditto for the tenders and a business car occupying several tracks. The 2317 and 3254 could be put in there when not in use, as these are "complete" locomotives. The 759 would stay in there, but the Lackawanna engine would have to either be made cosmetically whole or moved. A couple more locomotives could be brought in out of the weather and spruced up.

Once we have the appropriate locomotives, we simply bring them to life with a few well-placed smoke machines and appropriate sound effects of air pumps and such. Suddenly we'd have a living roundhouse with the proper sights and sounds. The gallery already gives the public excellent access to the roundhouse -- why not make it the crown jewel of Steamtown's static displays?

Steve Barry
Railfan & Railroad

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 Post subject: Re: A new persepctive...
PostPosted: Mon Jan 14, 2008 10:09 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 5:19 pm
Posts: 1816
Location: Pottstown,Pa.
Steve, that's a truly worthwhile suggestion. I'll bet if you were willing to head up the effort and lead the fund raising campaign (with a promise that the donations would be used DIRECTLY to create the exhibit and NOT be co-mingled with the NPS monies) that you'd find many willing donors.
Count me in if you're willing to lead the effort!!
Ross Rowland


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 Post subject: Re: A new persepctive...
PostPosted: Mon Jan 14, 2008 10:59 am 

Joined: Wed Jan 19, 2005 1:52 pm
Posts: 57
Location: Newton, NJ
Actually, Ross, it wouldn't take that much money to get over half this project done. It would take cooperation from Steamtown's management to sign on to getting the non-appropriate equipment out of there. The sound part could be done with a couple of cheap amplifiers, a few speakers and some speaker wire. Obviously you wouldn't want the same sound coming from every locomotive, but you could use the same sound for locomotives that are on tracks with some separation from each other. For instance, sound system #1 could be piped to the locomotives on tracks 1 and 4, sound system #2 could provide sound to tracks 2 and 5 and sound system #3 could provide sound to tracks 3 and 6 -- you could even use the same soundtrack as long as the sounds were staggered so you don't have adjacent locomotives making the exact same sound at the exact same time.

Yes, I know, almost any rail museum in the country could do this for $300 or so, but with government bids and contracts and design teams it would probably run several thousand at Steamtown. The best way to do this would be to simply convince management to look the other way while a team of volunteers scrounged the parts and hooked it up. One of the railfan rangers could go over to the roundhouse each morning and turn on the sound for the occupied tracks.

The smoke would be a different issue, as that would require some semi-permanent hardware mounted perhaps in each inspection pit. But once the proper locomotives are in the roundhouse (Phase I) and the sound system is hooked up (Phase II) it would become easier to demonstrate to the powers-that-be that putting in the smoke effects would be worthwhile.

Steve Barry

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Railfan & Railroad
Swedesboro, NJ


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 Post subject: Re: A new persepctive...
PostPosted: Mon Jan 14, 2008 11:08 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 5:19 pm
Posts: 1816
Location: Pottstown,Pa.
Steve, What you suggest sure makes sense to me. As I previously stated I'm a willing contributor if you're willing to lead the effort (much of which will be working through the unavoidable gov't. nonsense) to get it done??
I sure hope you will!! Ross Rowland


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 Post subject: Re: A new persepctive...
PostPosted: Mon Jan 14, 2008 2:08 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 12:15 am
Posts: 542
Hey Steve,

What about the following, so as not to disturb the work being done in the roundhouse. Only do this to 2-4 tracks at one end of the roundhouse, and have the Rangers explain that this area was set-up to recreate what sounds and situations would be found in an active roundhouse during the early 20th century, and that the rest is set-up to maximize Steamtown's ability to maintain their fleet.

This could be pitched as a proof of concept to management, with minimal disturbance to the current operations, since relocating everything to another building without losing parts would be expensive even if done completely with volunteer effort, where as moving and cleaning up a `small' area would have a minimal cost in management's minds. Then as they see it becoming popular, the recreated area can slowly expand to the next bays one at a time as projects finish or get to a point of being able to be moved.

With the other comment about tours, while I am not sure how it is done at other museums, here at the Ct Eastern RR Museum in Willimantic, Ct our docents tend to have 2-3 tour plans in their heads to cover the different interest levels of our visitors. For the `Ooohh it a train' crowd the details are minimal and further details are given when asked for, and for the `The which line did this locomotive run on in 19xx' crowd they get the 3 hour tour (with minimal shipwrecks...). Then again our signs are extremely minimal (laminated sheet with equipment type, make, model, last railroad and unit number) and we have a roster/history book with full information available for sale that goes into details about equipment and building histories.

Also with the tours, the tour changes as the glazed eye factor changes, which is hard to do with a recorded tour, but then again the person could just hit fast forward. One thing that would have me worried with pre-recorded tours in a railroad museum that has full scale equipment and trackage is that it is hard enough to get people to pay attention where they walk without any headphones (no shortage of trip hazards and sharp edges). I would fear the increased possibility of liability especially if you have inspection pits, active trains or exposed trackwork (non paved areas) even if the areas are roped off.

Just an idea,

Rich C.


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 Post subject: Re: A new perspective...
PostPosted: Mon Jan 14, 2008 5:39 pm 

Joined: Fri Aug 27, 2004 4:02 pm
Posts: 1173
Location: Back in NE Ohio
I don't want this to discourage anyone willing to be a volunteer docent at a museum. That said, I went through the B&O Museum this past Saturday with a camera club I belong to. Always interesting to get the perspective of people who are non-fans to a railroad attraction.

Anyway, a couple of us took the Noon roundhouse tour. The volunteer docent was a really nice retiree. He said up-front that he was not a railroader or modeler or serious fan, just someone who had an interest in trains and wanted something to do in retirement. Nothing wrong with that. I do have a couple of issues. His voice did not project well at all, something he really can't control, but I think that instead of walking and talking so that you practically have to be standing right beside the docent to hear them, they should make it a point to wait for everyone to gather around whenever you want to make a point or talk about a display.

Second, while he was operating from an obviously scripted presentation, there are just some pieces of knowledge that everyone giving a tour of a railroad museum should know. At one point the subject of brakes came up and this gentleman didn't know what was used to operate train brakes. I had sworn I was just going to follow along and listen, but I had to speak up on that one, and just said, "air". In all fairness, he did a really good job of explaining why the use of Camel-type steam locomotives was eventually banned when we were by the CNJ Atlantic, but then he got the driver diameter of it wrong.

Like I said, volunteers are the lifeblood of any museum, but maybe someone from the museum staff should occasionally walk along and observe what they are saying on the tour and then fill in any gaps in knowledge or revise the script. I'm sure most of us here could give a first-rate museum tour; but then again, the museum couldn't afford me before I retire!


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