Powered by steam, diesel or electricity, the Inland Northwest Rail Museum is home to almost 30 engines and rail cars not to mention model trains, an enormous collection of railroad memorabilia, and rides on its own small train line. Whether for a tot who loves Thomas the Tank Engine or a local history buff interested in how rail shaped the Northwest, the museum has something for everyone.
“In 1869, 150 years ago, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed,” said Inland Empire Railway Society President Dale Swant. “People are attracted to trains because of their history. This country was settled because of trains.”
When you visit the museum, it’s hard to believe the Inland Empire Railway Society and its impressive rail collection were almost homeless. After more than 30 years at the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds, the Society was forced in 2002 to look for a new home, finally settling on its present location near Reardan, Wash., about 25 miles west of Spokane. The current facility opened in 2016 with plans to expand in the future.
Swant said the location was chosen for a number of reasons, including the ability to move all the railcars and engines there and the fact that almost 5,000 cars a day pass by.
“We were only open 10 days a year at the Fairgrounds. We’re open 140 days a year now,” he said.
Visitors are treated to a number of rail cars and engines, including some that have been restored to their original condition and are open for walkthroughs. Young and old enjoy the 2-foot gauge train ride around the property.
Another major highlight is the last remaining Spokane streetcar.
At one time, Spokane was crisscrossed with a network of electric streetcars built and powered by Washington Water Power Company (now Avista). The streetcars linked the city center to new developments and recreation attractions. But when trolley service was discontinued in 1936, most of the streetcars were destroyed.
The Museum’s streetcar survived and was even used as a restaurant in Chewelah, Wash., before the Society purchased it and restored it in 2001. Today it offers a glimpse into the romance of days gone by.
The Inland Northwest Rail Museum is open Friday-Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., April 1 – December 17, at Highway 2 and State Route 231, 25 miles west of Spokane.