Denver, Leadville & Gunnison Engine 191 and D&RG caboose No. 49 are prominently displayed where the visitor steps out to the museum grounds.
December 14, 2011. It was a little over five years ago that Donald Tallman took over as Executive Director of the Colorado Railroad Museum. I first had an opportunity to talk to him about his plans about four years ago when he had been on the job for a little over one year. Now, for a second time, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the now seasoned Director about how his management has worked out and what he sees as the museum’s future.
Donald is clearly a young man of self-confidence and a man in charge. He is busy, of course, but he is also willing to take the time to talk and to listen. Now just as four years ago, Donald denies being a rail-fan, although he professes an interest in the historical importance of railways and in the craftsmanship of the past. He believes that bringing professional management to the organization is a benefit to all. How has it been working out?
In Stall 1 of the roundhouse, the 346 was staying warm between two weekends of Christmas train operations.
From a business point of view, it would seem quite well, especially when considering the state of the economy. Attendance has grown from about 60,000 to around 100,000 from 2006 to 2011. Membership has increased 5 to 10% over the same period. The museum works with a marketing firm and is getting more and more attention from the media. For the last four years, the museum has been ranked among the top 10 Denver area tourist attractions by Longwoods International, a leader in marketing, advertising, and public opinion research.
Two sources of museum funding.
The numbers are sufficient to qualify the museum as a Tier II organization for funding via the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) which distributes funds from a 1/10 of 1% sales and use tax to cultural facilities throughout the seven-county Denver, Colorado metropolitan area. Tier I organizations are defined in the SCFD statute, while Tier II and Tier III organizations must qualify. There are only about 25 Tier II organizations and about 300 Tier III. Income from a two and a half million dollar endowment, grants, donations and bequests add to the resources available for ongoing work and even expansion.
That expansion is needed is becoming more and more obvious. Currently, special events such as Thomas events and Christmas steam ups are pushing the museum’s capacity for parking, restrooms and other facilities. This year, instead of the usual one weekend, the Santa train is operating over two weekends. It is becoming a regular thing to bus in the crowds from remote parking areas for these events.
Special events in the planning for 2012 include a “Goose Fest”, a gathering of all the Rio Grande Southern's iconic, home-made railcars -- “the Galloping Geese”. The museum has been operating a “Galloping Goose” every Saturday, but starting next year, there will be a train one Saturday a month.
The museum's new diner was once the back-up diner for the Rio Grande Zephyr.
Meanwhile, the collection is growing: a former Rio Grande combine and diner were recently acquired and moved to the site, and Donald wants to use the diner for special events. Major track improvements and moving of equipment will take place in January through May of 2012. This should provide more room and easier access to equipment for maintenance and display as well as make actual productive use of some equipment. Both the museum building and the R. W. Richardson Library are pressed for space for archives, displays and customer facilities – good problems that must be addressed.
The museum now has a staff curator. In fact, the paid staff is now around twelve. Busy, regular volunteers number about 40 or 50 with about 300 total people volunteering some time during a year.
New paint is obvious on this rare boxcar from the long gone Colorado & North Western.
The museum’s vast outdoor collection seems to be getting much needed attention. RGS Engine 20 is still undergoing a complete operational restoration in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. It has been expensive and will still need another one-hundred to one-hundred-fifty thousand dollars to finish. D&RGW Engine 318, which hasn’t been seen intact for years, is nearing cosmetic restoration in the second stall of the museum’s roundhouse. RGS business car Rico and D&RGW outfit kitchen car 04255 are just two recent examples of the excellence of restorations completed by staff and volunteers.
Donald showed me the interior of the Rio Grande Southern business car, Rico.
The newly outshopped Kitchen Car is used for serving hot chocolate during Christmas steam-ups.
Improvement of the exhibits and added interpretational signage are part of the ongoing effort to make the museum experience more professional (more "museum like") to the guests. A guide book is now available at the front counter.
New signs appear all over the museum grounds.
A big three-sided sign gives an overall interpretation of what this is all about.
After my first meeting with Donald I was impressed, optimistic and encouraged, but I remained a little skeptical. I know that the core base of railway enthusiasts, especially those who actually remember steam and real narrow gauge railroading, is declining. The original museum was dedicated to preserve as much as possible for those who already cared; the new direction is to attract and educate the uninitiated. I can't help but dread this necessary shift, and as a rail-fan, feel a little neglected. Another trepidation I had was that I believe there is great value in having a genuine passion for what you do; I am passionate about this subject myself or I wouldn't be writing this. I have seen examples of dispassionate "professional management" gone wrong; I think most of us have. But despite denying that he is a rail-fan, I sense a passion in Donald for what he is doing. He is good with people, and I came away from our always amiable meeting even more optimistic about the museum's direction under Donald Tallman now, four years later.
Colorado Railroad Museum
17155 W. 44th Avenue
PO Box 10
Golden, CO 80402
Web site: http://www.coloradorailroadmuseum.org
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