July 12, 2008

The History and Railroad Museum marks its arrival at the Santa Fe Depot in San Bernardino

The Press-Enterprise

Stan Lim / The Press-Enterprise
At the new San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum, members of the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society, from left, Don Sheets, Glen Icamberry, Tom Marek and Steven Shaw bring in two track inspection cars used by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1948. The society will help operate the museum.

When the Santa Fe Depot opened in 1918, it became the bustling center of a growing city, providing jobs to many and serving as a vital transportation hub.

The depot was bustling again Saturday as a large crowd took in a glimpse of the city's past with the opening of the San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum, timed to coincide with the depot's 90th birthday.

The museum, in the former baggage-handling room at the west end of the depot, features railroad memorabilia, historical photographs, refurbished horse-drawn carriages and model railroad replicas.

The Redlands Fourth of July orchestra played music as the crowd -- a mix of history buffs and residents with ties to the depot -- toured the museum. Outside, a minivan-sized locomotive replica circled the parking lot, giving rides to children.

"I love trains and I love this station," said Jack Brennan, a Yucaipa resident who reminisced about riding Amtrak's El Capitan line to Chicago from the depot in the early 1950s when he was in high school.

The opening of the museum is the latest step to make the depot more accessible to the public since a $15.6 million restoration of the building four years ago. At that time, the city began a fundraising campaign to help with the project that included a chance to have people put their names on commemorative bricks at the depot.

The first of those bricks -- ranging from 4 by 4 four inches to 8 by 16 inches for donations between $75 to $500 -- were unveiled Saturday outside the southern entrance of the depot.

Joyce Miller, a San Bernardino resident for 65 years, posed besides the brick that she purchased with her husband and daughter in memory of her mother Bunny Sonnichsen.

"It's nice to come and see the different names of people you know and have been here for a long time," she said.

San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris said more improvements are planned for the depot, including a project to resurface the exterior of the building to eliminate cracks and landscape the parking lot. The city also hopes to bring back Santa Fe Engine 3751, an 80-year-old steam locomotive that was once based at the depot.

Morris jokingly made Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto, raise his arm and pledge to help get funding to display the steam engine, a promise readily agreed to by Baca.

The San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society plans to have the museum open to the public Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.