The heritage of the Great Plains Transportation Museum
HERITAGE OF THE GREAT PLAINS TRANSPORTATION MUSEUM
The Great Plains Transportation Museum, Inc., (GPTM), incorporated in 1983, was an outgrowth of the former Great Plains Railway Museum, which was closed in 1977 and placed into storage when it lost its home on the second floor of Union Station. At the time, Union Station was to undergo an extensive renovation through an urban renewal project and the Railway Museum was to eventually have a place in the Union Station building again. The new home in the Union Station building never materialized, so a small group of railroad enthusiasts decided that if there were to be a railroad-oriented museum in Wichita, it would be necessary to incorporate a new museum.
In the meantime, the City of Wichita sold the former Union Station building to Multi Media Cable Vision. The sale of Union Station included former Santa Fe locomotive 3768, which the cable company did not need for its business, so they donated it to the Museum. The steam locomotive was a feature attraction the Museum needed before opening its doors to the public. Already on hand from the former Great Plains Railway Museum were a Frisco wooden caboose, a Santa Fe drovers’ car, and a former KG & E electric locomotive. The Burlington Northern Railroad had donated a former Frisco switcher locomotive that was sitting in storage on their property.
A volunteer crew erected a fence in the summer of 1985 for enclosing the property and to protect the outdoor displays. Because the Museum would also need some office space, gift shop space, and indoor display space, a lease for a small portion of the Player Piano building was also negotiated.
Doors were first opened to the public in December 1986. The Museum held a “Grand Opening” the following June and by then a small admission was charged instead of relying only on donations and gift shop sales for income.
After its official opening the GPTM has acquired additional rolling stock over the years -- such as two industrial locomotives, some cabooses, a tank car, and a former Santa Fe diesel electric locomotive -- and various artifacts and memorabilia, and books. The GPTM also provides special group tours for schools and other organizations and a speakers bureau for civic and community groups. The benefits to members include a monthly newsletter, free admission to the Museum, and a 10% discount on purchases from the gift shop.
The number of yearly visitors is up, especially since a Douglas Street level entrance was opened beginning in November 1999. In addition to visitors from the Wichita and the nearby surrounding area, there have been visitors from other parts of Kansas, numerous other states, and a variety of foreign countries. Out-of-state visitors are typical on virtually a weekly frequency and foreign country visitors are typical at least monthly. Over the years the GPTM has established a presence in the City of Wichita and has become an asset to the community.