Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 8, 2017

Little Known Los Angeles: Lomita Railroad Museum

Travel requires choosing not only what to see, but what to omit. My city, Los Angeles, is an excellent example, but the fact applies everywhere, in cities and towns and out in the countryside, worldwide. We make our decisions, see as much as possible, taste the local food, take photos, but there’s always another historic site, intriguing museum or natural wonder that must go unseen.

We all have filters we use to select what we see. A city the size of LA requires a lot of filtering, depending on a traveler’s interests: beaches, theme parks, museums, mountains, performing arts, the film business (Hollywood!) and so on.

Railroads aren’t a passion for me, but I do have a passing interest in them, particularly historic ones, as regular readers know. I’ll go out of my way to see an old station or depot, and occasionally visit a museum, like the one in Durango, Colorado, where The Counselor photographed me waving from the cab of a steam locomotive:

Durango locomotive Marcy Vincent 002 LR (640x446)

Here in LA, we have our share of old stations from the glory days of passenger travel, and railroad buffs can roam around the metropolis chasing them down, including not-to-be-missed Union Station downtown, or the historic Southern Pacific station in Glendale.

Glendale SP track Brad Nixon 2362 cr (640x480)

Somehow, we humans are programmed to be more attracted to distant places than those close to home. The Durango museum is 800 miles away, and I’ve been there twice. But there’s a railroad museum 4.5 miles from my front door, and although I’ve lived within 5 miles of it for more than 20 years, I’d never seen it until recently.

Lomita RR ext Brad Nixon 9815 (640x446)

It’s tucked away on a suburban street: the Lomita Railroad Museum.

Lomita is 20 miles south of downtown, a few miles inland from the beach, one of scores of cities ensconced within LA. Primarily a residential area, Lomita has a population of about 20,000.

The museum has all the requisite appurtenances: charming, vintage station structure, big old steam locomotive, water tower, semaphore signal, and a few other pieces of rolling stock, including two cabooses, one from 1910:

Lomita RR UP caboose Brad Nixon 9791 (640x480)

I assumed that when I went there I’d learn something about the museum’s history as a former station on the Union Pacific; Southern Pacific or Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad (all of which have served LA).

No. There has never been a railroad station in Lomita, California, nor has a railroad line ever run through any portion of the town.

The museum is the creation of an avid train enthusiast, inserted into a suburb with no history of rail travel.

In the 1940s, Irene and Martin Lewis ran a business named Little Engines on that spot, manufacturing detailed working scale models of steam locomotives. Here’s one in the museum:

Little Engines locomotive Brad Nixon 8426 (640x480)

That is not just an impressively detailed scale model. It is an actual operating steam engine with a coal-fired boiler (the scale is 1 inch to 1 foot). They sold them all over the world.

After Martin’s death, Irene devoted herself to creating the museum. The station building is modeled after a late 19th Century structure on the Boston and Maine line in Wakefield, Massachusetts, and opened in 1967. The water tower is a replica, too, constructed in 2001.

Lomita RR tower vert Brad Nixon 9805 (479x640)

But Irene didn’t just stock the museum building with railroadiana. She set about acquiring a steam locomotive and several pieces of rolling stock.

Lomita RR loco Brad Nixon 9813 (640x480)

For train nerds, that’s Southern Pacific Locomotive #1765, a class M-6 Mogul 2-6-0, built in 1902 in Philadelphia. It operated until 1960, when it was set aside for scrap before the museum claimed and restored it. #1765 had been converted from coal to oil-fueled before it was retired, and it has the attached oil tender. (The museum was decorated for Halloween, hence the big webs.)

Yes, you can climb into the cab and study the gauges, valve handles and other gear.

Lomita RR controls Brad Nixon 9789 (480x640)

For my money, there’s no more impressive hardware than big ol’ locomotive wheels sitting on the rails.

Lomita RR loco wheel Brad Nixon 9831 (640x484)

Other cars on display include the Union Pacific caboose pictured above and a 1949 AT&SF caboose, once a common sight on American trains, now relegated to museums.

Lomita RR ATSF caboose Brad Nixon 9810 (640x480)

Both cabooses are open for viewing, too.

One of my favorite displays was an 1881 velocipede, a version of the hand car.

Lomita velocipede Brad Nixon 9795 (640x480)

Riders sat and propelled the vehicle by both pumping the handle and pedaling with their feet.

Here’s The Thing You’re Wondering About

If there’s no rail line to Lomita, how did they get those mammoth vehicles there, including an 85-ton locomotive? That, after all, is why train museums are typically located in train yards or along rail lines: They roll right in, but not into a suburban neighborhood with no track.

The cabooses, along with a vintage boxcar and an old tank car on display across the street were brought via rail to the Port of Los Angeles, then rolled up onto trucks for transport to the site.

The locomotive was a different matter altogether. No conventional road vehicle could carry such a load. In 1967, the museum crew constructed a custom built transporter, assembling steel girders and beams on a series of house moving dollies, 64 rubber-tired wheels in all. Once the locomotive was set on it, it required 10 hours to move it from the trainyard to the museum. The museum’s website has a detailed description with photos at this link.

The museum may not reach your must-see list for L.A. unless you’re a railroad fan, but if you know someone who lives in the South Bay area, you can give them a tip about a local attraction they may have overlooked.

Getting There

The Lomita Railroad Museum is at 2137 West 250th Street, Lomita, CA 90717. Admission is $4 for those over 13, $2 for children over 2. Check the website here for operating hours. There’s a free parking lot.

All aboard.

Lomita RR loco tower vert Brad Nixon 9799 (495x640)

Many of the photographs in this post and select images from Under Western Skies are available on Shutterstock.com. CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Durango museum photo © Marcy Vincent 2017, used by kind permission.


Responses

  1. What amazing RR enthusiasts! And incredible engineering feats, too. Thanks for the tour.

    Like


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