In 1955, the Cotton Belt Railroad donated Steam Locomotive 819 to the City of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The 819 was the last steam engine built in the Cotton Belt Shops (the same building that now houses the Arkansas Railroad Museum). A group of volunteers, mainly railroad employees, moved the locomotive to Oakland Park where it sat on display for some 25 years. Over time, the engine was vandalized and many parts were stolen off the engine. It was in sad state and had become an eyesore.
In 1983, a group of businessmen approached the Cotton Belt about moving the engine from the park to a track in the old machine shop, where it would be cosmetically restored and then placed in a new location near downtown. The Cotton Belt agreed to move the engine and place in on a track leased to the City. However, a group of 6-8 volunteers said: “We are going to fully restore the Engine to steam”. By 1986, their vision became a reality and she made her first trip to Fordyce for the Cotton Belt Festival.
In 1983, this same group of volunteers, plus a few new ones, formed the Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society and were incorporated as a charitable, non-profit under IRS article 501(c)(3). This permitted the group to solicit funds to enhance the restoration effort.
As time progressed and the restoration effort was underway, many people became interested in the project. This brought many people to the building and many began to bring items to donate to the Cotton Belt Historical Society. It became obvious that the project was going to grow into more than a restored steam engine. The name Arkansas Railroad Museum was adopted and the museum is still operated by the Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society, Inc. The building has over 70,000 square feet of floor space, 17 tracks, houses two display rooms and many displays.
How about taking a tour of the museum by clicking on the Museum Tour link and see what you have been missing by not visiting the museum in person? We hope to see you soon!
The Museum is open from 10am to 2pm, Wednesday through Saturday, though extreme temperatures can affect operating hours, since the main museum is neither heated nor air conditioned. Admission is free, however donations are appreciated to help offset operating costs.