The gold rush that started Fairbanks relied heavily on an early railroad to quickly and efficiently move people and valuable goods along a string of mines and supporting communities. The Tanana Valley Railroad Museum illustrates the role of this railroad in Fairbanks’ first industry through historical exhibits, interpretive train rides, and on-site restoration.
The first rails laid in the Interior connected Chena with Fairbanks (and later, Chatanika). Like most things in Alaska, the railroad didn’t come easy. Its early days were plagued by flooding and expensive fuel.
The museum houses the original steam locomotive (named Engine #1) that was shipped to the area in 1905 by steamboat and barge to pioneer the first track in the state for the Tanana Valley Railroad (then called Tanana Mines Railway). The company has since melded with another to become Alaska Railroad, transporting passengers and freight from Fairbanks to Seward.
Engine #1 is still fired up for special events and is stationed at the museum along with another early locomotive dubbed Old 67. A restoration workspace enclosed by glass allows visitors to look on as Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad make repairs to the historic locomotives. Inside, the facility is also divided into a small exhibit area and gift shop. You can read about how a steam engine operates and view relics like an old headlight fashioned from an oil lamp and an original brakeman’s lantern. A small gift shop sells snacks, conductor’s hats, model locomotives, and t-shirts. Admission is free, but be sure to sign the guestbook before you leave.
Visitors can purchase tickets to hop aboard the Crooked Creek Whiskey Island Railroad encircling Pioneer Park and pulled by Old 67. It’s just $2 for adults and $1 for seniors and kids under 12 (lap babies are free). The train runs every 15 minutes. An on-board guide (dressed in period attire) points out historic attractions and activities in each section. You’ll pass by historic log cabins that were moved from downtown to create a sense of what it was like to live here when it was “the world’s largest log cabin town.” You’ll also spot the Riverboat Nenana, pass by the Native Village, and look down on Mining Valley, a section dedicated to the mining legacy of the region.
The museum and train are handicap accessible. Kids will love the playground in front of the museum.