Tucked in to an unassuming storefront on Commercial St. in downtown Bellingham, train enthusiasts will be thrilled to discover the Bellingham Railway Museum.
The Railway Museum has been around since 2003 and is entirely volunteer-run. The good folks at the museum are a dedicated bunch who enthusiastically bring the history of railroading to life.
I love seeing this enthusiasm span across the generations. It’s not unusual to see a little train enthusiast – maybe 7 or 8 years old – conversing with the old timers about the merits of certain engines and other railroading topics. (Really, I’ve heard such discussions on more than one occasion!)
The museum features working model trains along with collections of model trains, railroad equipment and dining car dinnerware.
The working Lionel model trains may offer a bit of nostalgia for some. Two tracks with vintage equipment are set up for kids to operate. This alone will be worth the price of admission for your kids.
Speaking of admission, the cost is very reasonable: $3 for kids, $5 for adults or $10 for a family of four. Kids under 2 are free.
The showcase exhibit at the museum is the operable G Gauge model train layout. G Gauge, or garden scale, is larger than the traditional Lionel-style home models you’re probably familiar with.
These models are especially notable. They were designed and built by volunteer Randy German using only old photographs to create his scale models. He even machined parts he couldn’t otherwise acquire.
Not only are the cars in the models hand-built, so is much of the display, depicting early Whatcom County. I’m always drawn to the lumber mill and logging equipment obviously made with detail and care. And the entire G Gauge display is fun to see: The bustling town, busy stockyard and whimsical touches, like the T-rex riding in a freight car.
The G Gauge trains can also be operated by kids of all ages, 7 and older. A much-loved wooden Thomas the Train track lets the littlest engineers get in on the action.
While the model trains can keep the kids busy for your whole visit, make sure they check out some of the other exhibits as well. My kids were curious about the old railroad signal lanterns as well as the fancy tea service from the dining car. (The concept of a dining car was completely new and fascinating!)
My kids all mentioned the historic photo exhibit as one of their favorite parts of the museum. The exhibit shows photos of local rail line BB & BC (Bellingham Bay and British Columbia) from around Whatcom County.
We could see the origins of Railroad Avenue – just two blocks away from the museum – when Bellingham was little more than a few cabins and muddy dirt roads. That certainly left an impression with the kids, and as I parent it’s cool seeing the light bulb click on in their heads as they gain a sense of history and place.
The Railway Museum is a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours one afternoon. And since it’s in the heart of downtown, you can combine it with a special treat from one of the many eateries within walking distance from the museum.
More train time
If you have a little (or big) train enthusiast in your house, you also don’t want to miss the annual train show in Lynden at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds. Taking place the first weekend in October, the Railway Museum uses its appearance at the show as its biggest fundraiser of the year, where they sell locomotives, cars, tracks and accessories of all gauges, as well as railroad memorabilia.
1320 Commercial St.
Tuesday – Saturday, Noon – 5 p.m.
Kids 2-17: $3
Families (up to 4 people together): $10
Kids under 2 are free.