Keeping history chuggin’ down the line |

Keeping history chuggin’ down the line

Robyn Moormeister
Peter Barton, the new director of the Nevada State Railroad Museum, sits on one of the engines at the museum Friday afternoon. Rick Gunn Nevada Appeal

As the grandson of a conductor and engineer on the New York Railroad, steam engines chug through Peter Barton’s veins.

His grandfather used take him to work in Hyde Park, N.Y., and let him sit in the locomotive’s cab.

“As a 3 year old, there was no better feeling,” he said.

His relationship with steam engines blossomed into a lifelong career, and now he’s the new director of the Nevada State Railroad Museum.

A transplant from Boston, where he was vice president of a museum exhibition design firm, he and his wife, Nancy, and daughter, Heather, 15, immediately fell in love with life in the West.

“The drivers here are so polite,” he said. “The traffic is nothing compared to the East, and people are genuinely friendly, vivacious and willing to help.”

Barton has helped develop exhibits and programs for the Smithsonian Institution, the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, Mount Vernon, the National Museum of the U.S. Marine Corps and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial fund.

He said it took an extraordinary offer for him to leave it all behind. The Carson City museum, he said, has one of the best reputations for quality and achievement in the country.

“The restoration shop and collections staff are second to none here,” he said. “My colleagues had very good things to say about them.”

He said he’s also impressed with Nevada’s commitment to keep railroad history alive.

While many states sponsor only one railroad museum, Nevada has three.

“No other state has invested more in railroad heritage.”

Barton’s background includes nearly a decade as executive director of the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum and Horseshoe Curve National Historical Landmark in Pennsylvania, board chairman of a railway historical society in New York State and adjunct university history instructor.

He has a house in North Carson City and his daughter attends Carson High School.

Barton plans to increase museum marketing and one day to expand the museum’s property to allow for larger crowds.

He would also like to improve on exhibit interpretation, with more true-to-life settings and is working on getting a live traveling exhibit with a full-size replica of the Public Broadcasting System’s “Thomas the Tank Engine.”

“It’s an engine that teaches values to kids,” he said. “The train rides have been wildly successful in other cities.”

He said keeping railroad history alive is essential for sustaining a positive perspective.

“Think about the conductor in 1890 that had to use an old railroad lantern on a cold, snowy night,” he said. “If you can try to put yourself back there, it allows you to appreciate what we have today and all of the progress we’ve made.”

Contact reporter Robyn Moormeister at or 881-1217.