“We want to possess what they’re not making any more, what not many others can get and what will distinguish us from others.” (Gina Barreca)
Being dubbed the “Magic City of The Plains” in its heyday, Cheyenne, Wyoming once served as as a major stopover point for passengers on the historic Union Pacific line inaugural run moving westward toward California in the 1870s. For Ruth and I, we similarly viewed Cheyenne as a convenient junction to take a meaningful two night breather from those long drives across the Midwest and Great Plains of America on our current road trip. After all, we would soon be facing new challenges in the arduous Rocky Mountains of Colorado during the next leg of our current adventure. So I desired to find some time in Cheyenne to obtain an authentic feel for what traveling in the 19th century along these iconic Union Pacific Railways might have felt like at that time.
So my city research called for me to take an extensive look at Cheyenne’s rail transportation legacy last weekend at its famed Depot Museum. Serving as passenger terminal over the years since 1887, the first floor of this restored National Historic landmark now features an engaging museum provided through interactive exhibits and authentic period photos about Cheyenne’s early origins as a passenger railway hub. For this was an era of locomotive travel when I understood how train travelers took great risk in enduring the harsh realities of desolate terrain isolation, frequent Indian raids, and hellish winter conditions in the rugged west. On other adverse occasions, I learned that passengers delayed by rail track derailing or train engine failures would resort to begging people who lived near their frequent stops for food while waiting days for the train to move.
Moving across the first floor to the depot baggage room, I gained a further glimpse of early train travel by sitting on benches original to the waiting room and taking time to inspect luggage carts, bulky suitcases, and baggage scales scales from the period. While upstairs in the depot, I found further interest in the transition of American railways from steam engines to the diesel electric era as I walked around scale various narrow gauge railroad exhibits featuring scale model neighborhood simulations of Cheyenne and other western vicinities in early to mid 20th century times.
On a personal level, today’s tour of the Cheyenne Depot Museum gave rise to greater sensitivity for those passengers who once sought a new life in the American West via the Transcontinental Railroad. For while I share their sense of awe at seeing the vastness and beauty of the American West. I too express outrage at times as passengers once did in experiencing such perils of such long distance western travel. So, let’s just say I am an “old soul” at heart who’s looking to carve out his own path along the western frontier while being fully inspired by that historic period of explosive railroad growth in Cheyenne as described in this blog. Enjoy the photos.