About 1,500 people showed up at the Amtrak station on Tuesday to celebrate the 150th birthday of America’s largest railroad network, the Union Pacific.
The turnout included train enthusiasts, model train collectors, current and former railroad workers, and families with generations of history in the industry.
In recognition of the role Spokane has played in the growth of the rail lines, company officials awarded the city membership in Union Pacific’s new Train Town USA registry. The membership marks the city as a place of historical significance to the railroad.
Spokane is the 18th city to join the registry and the only Washington member.
Union Pacific spokesman Brock Nelson handed Mayor David Condon a commemorative coin and a sign that reads “Train Town USA” and read a proclamation stating Spokane’s induction into the registry.
Condon said he took his oath of office under the Riverfront Clocktower in part to pay tribute to the impact railroads have had on Spokane.
“The Clocktower is what brought a lot of the Anglo Saxons to this area because of the railroad, quite frankly,” Condon said.
Union Pacific, which stopped running passenger trains in 1971 but continues to run freight, brought restored locomotives and passenger cars from the height of passenger rail. Most of the cars were closed to public entry, but attendees could walk through an old baggage car converted into a traveling railroad museum to see old tools, read signs or watch videos about the roots of Union Pacific.
The collection, called the Heritage Fleet, mostly featured cars from the 1950s, but it also included the Shoshone, a business car built by Pullman Standard in 1914. The Shoshone is the second-oldest car in the fleet and was a pricey way to travel in its day.
“These were kind of the premium tickets,” said Thomas Lange, a Union Pacific spokesman. Though no longer used as commercial passenger cars, the company still uses them for meetings with clients. The cars are set up to look like they did when they were in operation, Lange said.
The event was a nostalgic step into the past for many.
“A lot of people who come out and see these cars tell you stories about how their parents and grandparents used to work in the railroad and talk about the days when they used to ride trains themselves,” Lange said.
A number of Union Pacific employees followed their parents or grandparents into the company.
“It’s unique, because you don’t see a lot of families who’ve worked through the generations at a lot of different companies,” Lange said. “We’ve run into quite a bit of that.”