Giants live at the Museum of Transportation -- huge locomotive engines that loom over the visitors who walk along their tracks; a beached 1932 tugboat that you can climb aboard and look out from, across a sea of trains; a 1944 C-47 troop-transport plane resting on the front lawn, commanding patriotism and awe.
There are all types of huge, rare and fascinating retired vehicles here, but the trains are the heart of the place. Trains are the monstrous serpents that snake through the expansive outdoor space in Kirkwood. Walking between them in shadow, kids and adults alike are dwarfed by seven-foot driver wheels and massive black iron parts -- it can be a little creepy.
The 1941 Union Pacific "Big Boy" is one of the largest steam trains ever built -- its smokestack sits eighteen feet above the track, and its locomotive and tender (the car just behind the locomotive that holds coal and water) weigh in at 600 tons. Its neighbor at the museum, the 1944 Atchison Topeka Santa Fe engine, ain't exactly small, either. You can climb a flight of stairs to the ATSF engineer's cab and marvel at the primitive controls, which look like garden-hose spigots of differing sizes. And hey -- where's the windshield?
The engineers on these trains were basically driving blind. The only windows are tiny slivers of glass near the sides of the cramped compartment that offer more blind spot than view. "By the time you could see anything on the track," explains museum educator Richard Owings, "it was too late to stop. A freight train running 55 to 60 mph takes more than a mile to stop."
The more than 100 train cars in the space also include hoppers, boxcars, passenger cars, sleepers, snow plows, the 98-foot whale-belly oil tanker, a tri-level auto-transport, a parlor/observation car, a science-lab car, handcars and everybody's favorite, the red cabooses. You can check out the Pacific Eagle passenger train favored by Harry Truman and go inside a series of cars from the 1920s that reveal snug sleeping berths, a fancy dining room and office, a compact kitchen and men's and women's lounges and bathrooms.
You can also see a locomotive that was part of a group that towed boats through the Panama Canal in 1914, a mine train and the first train tunnels built west of the Mississippi River (designed by a fellow named James Kirkwood -- yep, that Kirkwood). Don't forget to ride "Travis," the streamlined purple kiddie train that circles the parking lot.
The garage is home to a variety of antique autos, including a 1931 Adolphus sleeper bus "land yacht"; a 1941 Cadillac parked in the preserved façade of a Coral Court Motel unit; and Bobby Darin's restored "Dream Car," a one-of-a-kind luxury ride that looks like something flown by George Jetson.
This weekend's Transportation Celebration includes the usual fun, plus live music; displays of model railroads, antique trucks and fire engines; and the chance to take rides on minitrains, a 1930s double-decker bus, a 1947 streetcar and a miniature fire truck.