The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and the Strasburg Rail Road

Sitting across the street from one another on the edge of some of Lancaster County’s most beautiful farmland, are The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and the Strasburg Railroad. Even if you aren’t a train enthusiast, it is hard not to be very impressed by this combination of static displays and rolling stock. Although it seems that they are one and the same due to ease of moving from one to the other, the museum is a state facility administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), while the railroad itself is privately owned.


Photographs by Henry Rowan

Starting with the museum, its 100,00 square feet of indoor exhibition hall is supplemented with outdoor displays, which allows the museum to show over 100 locomotives and cars. (The outside area is not always open, so you may want to check with the museum first.) When you get up close and personal with some of the behemoths that they display, you can’t help but be awed by the size, complexity, and incredible workmanship that went into these trains.


You will probably need 1 1/2 – 2 hours to give the museum its due, but those with a special interest in trains could probably spend days there without getting bored. Unlike many museums, this one is very child friendly and the museum’s Railway Education Center offers an array of activities to engage younger visitors including a locomotive simulator, which is sure to be a hit.


As befits a museum of this caliber, the preservation of the history of railroads in Pennsylvania is as critically important as is the restoration and display of the rolling stock.  The museum touts an image library of over 250,000 prints as well as a huge collection of manuscripts, original drawings, corporate records, union publications, and much more. The Reading and Research Room is by appointment only so be sure to make arrangements before hand. You should also note that the archive material does not circulate, but you can use their robust on-line Data Retrieval System to pre-search for specific documents or photographs.


If you walk across the street, you can continue on your journey into railroading’s past by hopping on the 175+ year old Strasburg Rail Road and taking a 45 minute ride to Paradise Pa. and back. The station and cars are very nicely restored and you have the choice of traveling in high class or in more “common” passenger cars.


If you just read the brochures, this may strike you as nothing more than another touristy train ride. However, when you start to look deeper, you will find that it is a very impressive operation by people doing serious work.  Be sure to check out the rail yard, as it provides a unique opportunity to watch workers maintain and prepare the steam engines and other cars.

Photographic Tips:

WARNING: DO NOT change lenses ANYWHERE around a steam engine – you won’t believe how dirty your sensor can get and you may not be able to get some of the goo and gunk off. Also, even if you normally don’t use a UV or Skylight filter on your lenses, you will want to do so here. The soot filled smoke from the steam engines looks great in pictures but it doesn’t do your equipment any good at all.

Lenses: Trains are big and space is tight so wide to ultra-wide lenses are nice to have. 24mm – 100mm will handle 90% of the shots here, but you will occasionally want something wider and something longer for differing perspectives.

For more images of the RR Museum, Strasburg Rail Road or Lancaster County, please click here and have a look around.

For photographs of just trains, try using the Search Archive feature near the top right corner of the screen.

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