The International Steam Pages
The Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Miami, Florida 2011
This museum is located to the south west of the city at 12450 S.W. 152nd Street on land which once formed part of the Richmond US Naval Air Station, a Second World War airship base. It’s always been run by volunteers since it was established in 1956, initially to provide a home for Florida East Coast RR Pacific no. 153 (ALCO (Schenectady) 63262/1922). This loco had led something of a charmed life. In 1926 it acquired a measure of fame by hauling a special train for President Coolidge into Miami and in 1935 when it worked one of the last rescue trains back into Miami from the Key West line, the long, straggling “railroad that went to sea”, when the line was overwhelmed by a hurricane. Three years later it was sold into industrial service with the US Sugar Corporation at Clewiston FL where it remained until presented to the University of Miami for preservation in 1957. The university ran a campus at the old naval air station at the time and allowed the fledgling museum society to set up base at some old sidings there and to look after the loco.
In 1959 the university acquired the old presidential Pullman car “Ferdinand Magellan”. This vehicle started out life in 1928 as one of six private Pullman cars. In the light of concerns for the president’s security after the US had entered the Second World War it was decided to provide him with a presidential saloon, armour plated and equipped with emergency escape hatches and one end balcony from which the great man could address those who had gathered to see him during stops. “Frederick Magellan” was selected for conversion to this new role and served Presidents Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower until it was retired from service in 1958. Surplus federal-owned assets had to be offered to the states before being disposed of privately and in the case of this car it was also offered to the Smithsonian Museum. However none of them were interested and the only bid for it came from the University of Miami on behalf of the new museum. It arrived there in 1959 and has been its star exhibit ever since, being designated as a National Historic Landmark, the first such in Miami, in 1985. Over the years its interior has become worn. It’s now normally kept locked though the museum kindly opened it up for us when we visited in December 2011 on our way back home from Bogota.
The museum had to leave Richmond in the mid-1960’s in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis when the land which it occupied was required for an electronic eavesdropping station to listen in to what Fidel Castro was up to. It moved to Fort Lauderdale until forced to move on again in the 1980’s when its home there was required for motorway construction. By then the US government was no longer tuning into the thoughts and doings of Fidel at Richmond and the museum was able to return. It’s been there ever since despite suffering severe damage during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 .
There’s now a large, purpose-built shed which houses no. 153, the Pullman car, and a variety of other coaching stock, notably a vista-dome car “Silver Crescent” and several matching stainless steel-clad coaches. There’s a second Florida East Coast Pacific, no. 113 (ALCO (Schenectady) 53902/1913) stored out in the open at the far end of the site and numerous diesels of various vintages. A 1920 ALCO 0-4-2T is also supposed to be there though we couldn’t find it. There’s a circle of 2ft gauge track on which one of the 2ft gauge Crown Metal Products’ 4-4-0’s that were built in some numbers in the 1970’s operates, the only working exhibit in the museum. The loco appears to be a replica of “The General”, the Western & Atlantic RR Rogers-built loco which acquired fame during the US Civil War and which will be familiar to anyone who collected Kitmaster loco kits during the 1960’s! The loco used to belong to Mr. Edwin Link, a Florida enthusiast, and to operate on his private railway at Fort Pierce FL. After his death the loco was presented to the museum by his widow. It now runs on compressed air.
Finally there’s a 3ft gauge 0-4-0 tender loco plinthed near the entrance which to my eyes is much the most attractive loco at the museum. I was told that it’s ALCO (Cooke) 63253/1922 but haven’t been able to find out anything about its history.
The museum’s a long way from downtown Miami and if you’re visiting you’ll probably need a taxi to get there unless you have your own car. It’s off the approach drive to Miami Zoo which is well signposted.
The narrow gauge Alco 0-4-0
113 and 153
Finally the delightful ng / miniature replica: