If you’ve driven down Douglas past Old Town and Union Station, you’ve seen the giant steam engine that is the prize of the Great Plains Transportation Museum. It’s right in the middle of the overpass; you drive right under it.
The steam engine, number 3768, was built in 1938 and represents the pinnacle of engineering at the time. It was designed to be both strong and fast and was used for cargo and passenger lines. The locomotive is huge — hard to imagine until you’re standing close to it.
Like all the equipment on the platform, you can go inside #3768. The train has been restored to its former glory complete with valves, levers and switches you can touch and move.
Visitors can climb into the engines, cabooses and other equipment. They can also see the artifacts being restored. Currently, the museum’s oldest car, a 1904 caboose, is being worked on by Boy Scout troop 522. Other volunteers, like Dave Olsen, are working on a "critter" — a smaller, specialized engine — that is disassembled for engine repair.
The museum also has artifacts inside the building. There’s a room of historic items upstairs. There are dozens of items: telegraphs, part of an engine, a large cargo scale, an old potbellied and a model that shows what Wichita looked like when the trains first arrived. All of the pieces show life at a different time, when trains were your connection to the rest of the country and the reason western towns — like Wichita — were able to grow.
Volunteers keep the Great Plains Transportation Museum running. Drew Meek, an architect with Spangenberg Philips Tice, is the treasure of the museum and volunteers regularly.
For Drew Meek and other volunteers, the hours they put in at the museum let them stay involved with a treasured hobby. But it also helps keep trains alive for the next generation.