CONRAD – From photographs to tools to an antique steam whistle, the Conrad Depot Society’s train museum is now open with dozens of items on display to help the railroad remain a fixture of its time in the community.
The CDS hosted a grand opening of the train museum on Thursday, July 26, at the Great Northern/BNSF train depot along Front Street.
The original Conrad depot was built further down the track in 1902. The current building, which qualifies for historical purposes, was constructed in 1949, but closed in 1989. Before the CDS took ownership, the building sat empty except for some instances when it was used as an office.
Bert Rigby, president of the CDS, said the society was formed in 2013 and only owns the building while BNSF owns the land.
The original idea was to have a model train exhibit in the building, but the idea evolved into opening a train museum.
“Most of our stuff is donated. A lot of it is donated by families that worked here or collected,” Rigby said. “We went through antique malls as well.”
One significant piece of memorabilia is a waiting room bench from the Valier train depot donated by Dr. Michael Garver of Great Falls after he bought the bench at an auction.
Conrad and Valier have a significant train history extending back to 1909 when the Montana Western Railway, a branch line of the Great Northern Railway, was constructed between the two towns in an effort to develop new agricultural lands in Valier.
Another significant piece is a velocipede loaned by John Shevlin. The velocipede dates back to the 1870s and was used for railroad maintenance. The museum’s exhibit explains that station telegraph operators could also use the velocipede to deliver messages to towns along the track.
A woman also loaned memorabilia from the Milwaukee train station in Agawam. Her grandfather was the station’s last agent.
The museum did not open without challenges as the roof had to be replaced in 2016 and a water line break in 2017 destroyed the original floor. The building is structurally sound, however.
The train museum is open on Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Labor Day. Charges include $4 for adults and $2 for children. The CDS is also looking for more members.
For tours at other times or inquiries about joining the Conrad Depot Society, please call Bert Rigby at (406) 627-2397.
If you would like to donate, please send donations to:
Conrad Depot Society
315 South Front Street
Conrad, MT 59425
Reporting by Natalie McAlpine for MTN News