By Aaron Isaacs, HRA editor
Although I visited Scranton primarily to ride the Electric City Trolley Museum’s interurban line, it’s impossible to ignore Steamtown, just across the parking lot. The railfan press has been unkind to the National Park, and I wanted to see if that was justified.
The answer is partially yes. There are two wildly different Steamtown experiences, inside the roundhouse museum and outside in the yard, and the contrast is hard to reconcile. The rolling stock inside and parked next to the roundhouse is pristine.
The observation walkway high on the inside front wall of the working roundhouse is still very evocative. Steamtown’s only active locomotive, Baldwin 0-6-0 #26, was hot with two guys attending to it and that set the mood for the other tracks full of slumbering engines. Anyone getting their first exposure to such a scene would be impressed.
After the effectiveness of the inside experience, it’s demoralizing to see what is parked outside. It’s a yard full of rust, exactly the sort of thing that causes underfunded, all-volunteer museums to be labeled “junk yards”. And it’s prominently displayed, easily viewed from the excursion loading platform and even more so from the long pedestrian bridge leading to downtown. There’s also a weird contrast with the sparkling Alco diesel museum pieces that power the Delaware-Lackawanna freight operations at one end of the yard.
Of course railfans are going to be more critical than the general public because Steamtown has the kind of financial resources that most museums can only dream of, yet doesn’t seem to effectively spend it. Railpace Newsmagazine recently ran a scathing editorial because Steamtown has received a large amount of money to rebuild some yard tracks instead of painting the deteriorating equipment sitting on those tracks. They singled out the Big Boy, prominently placed next to the parking lot, but peeling badly.
On top of that, Steamtown has stopped charging admission, purportedly to get the visitor numbers up, but doesn’t that walk away from revenue that could be put to good use? I left with very mixed feelings about Steamtown.