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In 1967, a group of railroad enthusiasts formed a local chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and named it the Inland Empire Railway Historical Society. The aim of the organization was to preserve the history of railroading in the Inland Northwest for future generations. The Society’s first major project began in 1970 with the cleaning and painting of retired Union Pacific locomotive 3206 in Spokane’s Highbridge Park. That same locomotive was the first piece of equipment that was moved to the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds in 1978.
Since that time the group’s train display and museum has grown to include almost 30 different rail cars and engines plus an outstanding selection of railroad memorabilia and an extensive library.
Located at the Fairgrounds for over 30 years, the Society was given an eviction notice in June of 2002 that instigated a statewide search for a new home. A year-to-year lease gave the society a chance to develop a new museum site. In the meantime, the organization continued to operate the narrow gauge ride and museum train during the Spokane County Interstate Fair each September through 2014.
In December 2002 the Society chose a 30-acre parcel of land two miles West of Reardan as its new museum location. Developing a new museum and moving a collection of this size was a monumental project that necessitated extensive site development and installing enough track to relocate and display equipment at the new location. The predecessor to the Eastern Washington Gateway Railroad gave permission to install a switch and siding adjacent to the new site that will enable the group to move its collection of equipment by rail from Spokane. A crossing on Sunset Highway was installed in the summer of 2010, joining a spur from a switch off the EWGR onto the new Reardan property.
Laying of display tracks continued throughout this time. Summer 2011 allowed a great deal of infrastructure to be completed, including a well, sewer and electricity, and found the group developing a location on the site for placement of a donated Union Pacific turntable which was transported from Spokane by rail and installed in its permanent location by crane in January 2012. Few rail museums have such an asset, which is one of our largest railroad artifacts. Plans for the museum facilities moved into high gear in 2012, as Spokane architecture firm MMEC was hired to produce a master site plan for the Reardan property, details of which can be found here.
2013 brought continued work on the design and fundraising for phase I of the museum (a conservation and restoration building and visitors center which would allow us to be operational at the new location) and a fall groundbreaking celebration. Construction of this first building was completed in 2016, with our grand opening held on Aug. 27 of that year.
The organization now operates the Inland Northwest Rail Museum on 30 acres near Reardan, Wash., adjacent to the Eastern Washington Gateway Railroad short line, at 27300 Sprinkle Rd. N.