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 Post subject: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 12:34 am 

Joined: Mon Mar 28, 2016 9:49 pm
Posts: 63
Location: Northern Illinois
I stumbled across this gem of a video on youtube, in which a female vlogger tours the Illinois Railway Museum: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0A6JpuFMuZc&t=1s . Try to watch through without cringing...

Seriously though, I think this video, while dramatic, may be useful in seeing a rail museum through the eyes of the general public, instead of a railfan/foamer. It can be seen in this video that the public may not understand that climbing is prohibited, or that massive piece of equipment is a snowplow. Furthermore, they may not care much about the history of a specific piece of equipment, and how some forgotten celebrity or politician supposedly traveled aboard this car 100 years ago. Instead, they will likely take interest in the "coolest looking" piece of equipment, or maybe one that is open for touring..

So I am trying to start a discussion: What steps can a museum take to entice visitors from the general public, and keep them interested once they arrive? And how can this be done while maintaining the mission of preserving equipment and educating the public about railroads? These steps are obviously important, because I have heard many say something along the lines of "Railfans will always show up, it's the families and other non-railfans visiting that keep the revenue flowing in."


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 Post subject: Re: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 12:52 am 

Joined: Thu Sep 22, 2011 4:29 pm
Posts: 1343
Location: Youngstown, OH
I long ago noticed that the general public doesn't care about 99% of the stuff that we care about. They don't really care that a museum may have an example of every variation of a specific hopper car built for XYZ railroad, or what the difference is between a 2-8-0 and a 2-8-2. Most of them just want somewhere interesting to take the kids on a Saturday. The railfans are those who care about such things but as you stated, their visits don't pay the bills.

So we build our facilities for fellow railfans, not the limited attention spans of the general public. It is always good to look at what we do through the eyes of someone who doesn't care at all about trains.

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Rick Rowlands
J&L Narrow Gauge Railroad
"The shortest and narrowest Railroad in Ohio"


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 Post subject: Re: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 1:35 am 

Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 3:41 am
Posts: 3418
Location: Inwood, W.Va.
Oh my, oh my, some cringing, yes, but I still liked it.

Good points--The young lady apparently enjoyed her visit, and she even enjoyed what so many others would think was rusty old junk! She also loved the atmosphere of the old passenger cars (and I notice how most were steam era heavyweights!) She was intrigued by the details, such as marker lights! All good stuff, all entertaining stuff!

Bad points--Where were all the people? Where were the staff? I know there are problems with having enough people, and the scale of facilities like this is enormous (and a working railroad is measured in miles), but I wonder if she could have used a friendly guide. (Then again, she seemed to be one who wanted to be on her own.)

Conclusions--While we have to consider that what interests some of us may not really interest the public, we also need to get things right as we see them. By that I mean attractive, authentic equipment restorations and displays. The public is indeed intrigued by our equipment, our right of way, our operating practices, our atmosphere (read "immersive experience"), but we also need to consider the public isn't interested in the difference between 63 inch drivers and 69 inch drivers in the evolution of freight locomotives.

We need to get the balance right.

P.S.--In a way, she reminds me of my wife. She likes trains. When we would visit the East Broad Top when it was running, and when we came home, she would say she was already missing the whistles. She thought we should still be hearing them in Martinsburg, W.Va. In fact, she thought what we have today--the big plastic signs for convenience stores and fast food restaurants--was a poor experience after the whistles and sounds and smells and the timeless atmosphere of the yard at Orbisonia.

When the crews at Orbisonia were placing the engines in the roundhouse after a Fall Spectacular, they would shut off the dynamo. As the turbo generator spun down, and the headlight became dimmer and dimmer and finally went out, she observed it was as if a locomotive was going to sleep, and it was closing its eye.

She thinks, as this lady did, that trains are cute. That includes monsters like 1218 and 611!!


Last edited by J3a-614 on Sun Jul 01, 2018 1:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 1:42 am 

Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 3:41 am
Posts: 3418
Location: Inwood, W.Va.
Some people, reading that post above, may think I'm suggesting we "dumb down" our interpretations.

That's not what I think we should do. Rather, we should consider that, in a way, we are like primary educators. We don't start out children in reading with "Moby Dick," "War and Peace," or anything by Shakespeare. We (used to) start them out with "Tales of Dick and Jane," or whatever the modern counterpart is. If we can jog the interest, we can get them in deeper.

And we have some considerable advantages, especially if we have an operating railroad, especially if it is in steam. We have something already attractive, already alluring. We just need to make sure it's really right, really as good as our old time stories say it was.


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 Post subject: Re: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 2:41 am 
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Posts: 36
Location: Alberta, Canada
First off, since I am new here, I volunteer at the Alberta Railway Museum in Edmonton, AB.

I know it's cliche, but publicity and advertising are key to getting people through the gate. It is amazing how low a profile many museums have, it is almost like we are trying to fly under the radar. I have lost track of how many visitors have commented "we had a great time and would have come sooner, but had no idea this place existed", or something similar. On several occasions we have been described, both by visitors and the media, as "Edmonton's best-kept secret". Have a good, easy-to-navigate website (we are currently revamping ours) and Facebook page, update them regularly, and take every opportunity to schmooze with the media year-round, not just during the operating season (if you are like us, and not open all year). Publicize current restoration projects as upcoming "new exhibits".

Once you get them through the gate curb appeal is key. It is amazing what keeping the weeds trimmed and display areas clean can do for word-of-mouth PR. Ms. Ashley Rose may find rows of rusty parts fascinating (as do I, and keeping spare parts is a good thing, not trying to knock IRM here), but John & Jane Q. Public will see them and go home saying "that place is nothing put a junkyard". And then tell that to their friends.

For interpretation, I agree that we should make it readable for railroad newbies, and also don't be afraid to make it flashy, a picture really is worth 1000 words. Displaying a whistle with a small note saying "this is from a G-3-a 4-6-2 built in 1923 and retired in 1959" sounds dull, so spice it up. Have a picture (preferably colour) of the locomotive, point out the whistle and explain its function along with colourful bits of history, which for a whistle would include how Engineers each had their own style, and could play the thing almost like a musical instrument. Most artifacts have stories like that, telling them makes the thing more relatable and more likely to stick in a visitor's memory.

Static displays are nice and simple from a maintenance standpoint, but if you have equipment in serviceable condition then operate it, even if only for demonstrations. We used to hook up our wedge plow, Jordan spreader, and flanger to shop air and move the wings and blades, with the visitors kept a safe distance away of course. Everyone loved it, the spreader especially made jaws drop. Moments like that stick in people's minds, and make them think of the place later on. We have since had to stop those demos due to space and volunteer labour limitations, but I am going to try and push to re-activate them in the future.

For education, try to partner with local schools to have tour groups and field trips come out. The transcontinental railroad is still in the curriculum, what better place than a railway museum is there to learn about that part of our history? Getting kids out there may even translate into future visits with their family, or even new volunteers down the road.

I could go on, but it is getting late and tomorrow will be busy. Happy Canada Day!

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-an Articulate Malcontent


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 Post subject: Re: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:59 am 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 9:18 am
Posts: 523
Location: Wall, NJ
A topic near and dear to my heart as a past volunteer, trustee, and as a marketing guy.

A thought occurred to me as I read the posts. Its probably true that in general 99% of the population does not care much about what we do. Ah, but the same can be said of the guy who restores a ‘64 GTO, an antique farm tractor, historic air plane, wooden boat, even an old house. We do these things because we enjoy doing it, but then we enjoy sharing our passion with others who for a fleeting moment find it interesting, find it cool, and may be willing to pay a few bucks to enjoy our work. Keep in mind your non-profit status requires that you generate some idea of an educational environment.

What I am saying is that we should not be down on ourselves with the idea that no one cares about our preservation efforts. Few people care about the guy who pours thousands of hours into a 1966 VW bug restoration or the restoration/maintenance of a classic wooden boat. But in some odd way, the public is thankful that such people do take on such projects.

Anyway, get off the pity potty. We do what we do because we enjoy it and enjoy sharing it with others. No different that the car collector, tractor collector, wooden boat owners, etc.

J.R.


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 Post subject: Re: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 1:04 pm 

Joined: Fri May 04, 2012 12:20 pm
Posts: 139
The issue of 99% of the public not caring about what we do points out what we need to do.
We need to, in an entertaining way, help them to BECOME interested.

If a child asks a question you have heard a thousand times.....remember that it is the FIRST time they have asked it. There are no stupid questions and all questions present an opportunity to spark an interest in the questioner.

Keith


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 Post subject: Re: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 1:15 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 201
LVRR2095 wrote:
The issue of 99% of the public not caring about what we do points out what we need to do.
We need to, in an entertaining way, help them to BECOME interested.

If a child asks a question you have heard a thousand times.....remember that it is the FIRST time they have asked it. There are no stupid questions and all questions present an opportunity to spark an interest in the questioner.

Keith


Yes exactly. Tell the people why they should care. If you have an old piece of equipment rusting away.. that's all people will see. If you have a shiny piece of equipment in perfect condition.. that's still all people will see. It's important that the guests to your museum are given the full picture of what the piece of equipment is. How does the common guest know the basics?
When was this built?
Who built it? Who was it built for?
Where did it run?
During the time and place that it operating, what was happening? Civil War? World War I? II?

Signage, museum guides who are well informed, AV Presentations (Seriously.. it' so easy and cheap to put together and audio visual presentation for pieces of equipment. It can be as simple as an ipad slide show.).


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 Post subject: Re: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 1:29 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
Posts: 5531
Location: southeastern USA
Don't talk about the technicalities of the rusty iron - that's for us. Tell stories about people and how the railroad impacted their lives - that's what our visitors want. If you do it through the creation of a time machine they can walk through and experience, so much the better... going back to the Leviathan thread, I was thinking of it as being something like East World - West World seems inappropriate even though the property was referred to as a "ranch" in some posts, not to mention the licensing nightmare. Speaking of which I think perhaps Steven is finally getting to build his Hooterville.

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Santayana: "He who does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it."
Corollary: "He who does is doomed to watch those who don't repeat it anyway."


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 Post subject: Re: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 1:47 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 201
Dave wrote:
Don't talk about the technicalities of the rusty iron - that's for us. Tell stories about people and how the railroad impacted their lives - that's what our visitors want.


I think I agree with you in general. But what are you calling "the technicalities."

Who built the piece of equipment, for example, can be a big part of the equipments story.

Also... there are plenty of visitors who WILL want to know the technicalities, and there should be options for them to hear, read, and learn more. The Strasburg Shop tour is an excellent example.

A great example of telling a story, I think, is the California State Railroad Museum displays. The signage tells you the basics (when was it built, who built it, etc.) but the larger display tells a bigger story. Rosy the Riveter, Surveying the Transcontinental Railroad, etc.


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 Post subject: Re: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 3:40 pm 

Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2013 10:18 pm
Posts: 75
SD70dude --
Thank you very much for your very insightful and well-written post. Your points are very well made.

Some thoughts I had about how to improve visitors' experiences at railroad museums, in no particular order of importance:

1. Keep your restrooms or Porta-potties CLEAN!
This cannot be over-emphasized! Somehow, you have got to make sure this ALWAYS gets done, for health and safety and to make a great first impression. A good friend said that they judged restaurants by how clean their restrooms were, because they felt that the cleanliness of the restrooms was a symbol of how well-run the restaurant was. I agree.

2. Make the visits FUN!
I remember what a priest told me long ago about getting people to come to church: "Ya gotta make it more fun than a picnic, or people will not come!" He was right!

3. Have ongoing good PR and marketing.
A railroad museum I know of was also described as its city's "best-kept secret". No one can visit any place if they don't know it exists. And nowadays, with all the many choices for John Q Public's attention, it is harder than ever to stand out. But we have to try, and do a good job. Pay attention to what actually works in getting your museum positive attention, and do it. I like the idea of regularly shmoozing with local media. TV stations always need stories to fill air time, so let's get our Boards and volunteers to brainstorm some interesting ideas for stories the local media can use. And remember -- once is not enough. We need repeated publicity, with somewhat different content each time.

4. Make things move -- if you can.
Things that move are always much more interesting than things that stand still. Show what those things did when in regular service. Invite the public up into the cab and let them blow the whistle or horn. If you have an operating diesel, have the engineer rev up the prime mover, after telling visitors to listen for it. Or let visitors move the throttle themselves. That will make a huge impression! (As far as possibly legitimate concerns about this telling some irresponsible people or criminals how to get a diesel locomotive to move -- well, then, if that is a legitimate concern, then no museum or tourist RR should ever do "Run a Locomotive" programs.)

5. Tell interesting stories about the equipment and the PEOPLE who operated it.
People love good stories that they can relate to, even though relatively few people nowadays are related to anyone who works for a railroad. But do NOT tell the public the negative things about railroading, other than maybe to say that it can be dangerous. Train your tour guides / docents to be interesting and enthusiastic, but not over-the-top with enthusiasm. They must be genuine. I like the "gee-whiz" attitude of the late Huell Howser, of "California's Gold". He was very enthusiastic, but that was never annoying -- just always very enjoyable and contagious.

6. Change things over time.
"Locomotive & Railway Preservation" magazine made an excellent point about this in an editorial long ago. They said that too many railroad museums give visitors the very same experience every visit -- that nothing ever changes. "Been there once, seen it all -- no need to go back again." That is what museums need to be aware of and avoid.

7. Have an Operation Lifesaver display.
And, when you can, have OL presentations. THAT is a VERY important part of fulfilling your mandate to educate the public.

8. Have interactive displays.
As a child, I really enjoyed a visit in 1951 to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry because it was the only museum I had ever visited that had interactive displays. I never forgot how much FUN that was. That was so long ago that I cannot now remember what they had that was interactive, but it was lots of fun. (I was 9 then.)

9. Partner with other history groups and other railroad-hobby groups for special displays.
The Golden Gate Railroad Museum, at our former San Francisco location, invited the Pacific Bus Museum to bring a couple of their historic buses to one or two of our Open Houses. That was great, and much more interesting than having only the same items on display, as it added something different to what was on display. We also had local model railroad clubs set up a large operating model railroad with members' modules in a large asphalt area we had in front of our engine house.

10. Get young people involved.
As another priest told the congregation long ago, "If the church does not pass on its message to the younger generation, it will be dead in a generation." This is true of all organizations. Please remember -- young people are our future!

11. Be friendly to everyone.
No museum should eve be just a "Good ol' boys" club. And watch out for cliques!

Comments appreciated!


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 Post subject: Re: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 4:28 pm 

Joined: Tue Aug 02, 2005 1:25 pm
Posts: 5389
Enjoyed Ashley's video, of which, a couple of comments. She was VERY enthusiastic about her visit. Commented a couple of times about where everyone was. A very good question. I saw a couple of other visitors in the early portion of her video, but no museum folk. Perhaps those there that day were running the trains. She "missed" a CSL streetcar, but apparently never rode another car, apparently not important to her visit. "Old trains" were important, and she seemed satisfied in viewing them. Certain items were of great interest including an old "glass marble" crossing buck sign, marker lights and various "rusty" items from a parts location. She seemed to enjoy climbing on equipment which she did as no signs prohibited it. She also would have preferred to be able to get into cars and those that WERE open, she enjoyed. I liked her "non-railfan" report and hopefully, by putting it out there on the net, it will attract some additional visitors to Union. Perhaps the boys at IRM might contact her and ask her to come back for a "follow up" by giving her a ride on one of the electric cars or a train.

Enjoyed the comments thus far. Our museum is nowhere near IRM's size, so we are able to interact with visitors a bit better I think. When I am up in Grasselli Tower, I try to explain its workings to visitors as best I can. Most seem very appreciative. I have also had visitors who, after climbing the steps, will come in, take a quick look around and immediately leave. "Been there; seen that", they seem to be saying. It is always rewarding after "doing my spiel" about the tower, to get questions. The young visitors seem to have some of the best!

I agree that we need to keep providing "something new". I also think that interactive displays are important. This is not easily done for a lot of musems. Up in Grasselli, I let visitors throw one of the levers if they so desire. Of course, our levers are no longer connected to pipe lines to a signal or switch or whatever, but that too, leads to another piece of information. I keep a piece of pipe and a roller, to explain that aspect of the tower.

I could make some additional comments, but will end it here so that other replies can be furnished and read.

Les Beckman (Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum/North Judson, Indiana)


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 Post subject: Re: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 7:54 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:25 pm
Posts: 1881
WHY?

This is the question that should be addressed with exhibits and programs.

I can rattle off all manner of technical details about the cars and objects in our collections at National Capital Trolley Museum, but the answer to WHY? is more important.

- Why was the car purchased?
- Why did passengers ride it?
- Why did the company modify the car?
- Why was the car saved?

Etc.

I observe our visitors become more engaged when I use examples and information related to WHY when I am giving tours of Streetcar Hall.

Wesley


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 Post subject: Re: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 8:24 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 201
100% agree with the above post on "why."

I also want to add a thought... Several posts about IRM not having more tour guides etc. around. IRM has signage on just about every piece of equipment... Not everybody wants a guided tour of everything. When do you get a guided tour at an art museum? Generally you wander on your own pace and read about pieces that specifically interest you. There are art lovers that will read about every piece, some people who will stop to read only about specific pieces, and others who just breeze on by the art. Its ok to let people explore in their own way.

I'm often annoyed when I am "attacked" by a volunteer at a railroad museum or historic village. Just because I have stopped to look at a locomotive does not mean I desire to hear a rehearsed lecture on why this locomotive is a "2-8-0." I always try to be polite and nice but it gets a bit old at times.


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 Post subject: Re: Public image of railway museums
PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2018 9:28 pm 

Joined: Thu Oct 08, 2015 11:54 am
Posts: 380
Location: Orrville, OH
I thoroughly enjoyed the video and Ashley's enthusiasm but it did illustrate a few points we all should keep in mind. My own organization can be guilty of not doing this....

Signage is most important and must present seven points to engage the patron: Who, what, when, where, why & how along with an appropriate image. If you ever had a journalism class, they beat that into your head. That's how you tell a factual story.

Having a docent somewhere in the area is also important to either answer questions or to inquire if the patron has any questions - helps to make them feel welcome and sometimes they're embarrassed to ask right off. Usually, when I ask if someone has any questions, a full-on, friendly conversation ensues. Taking an interest in your patrons goes a long way in getting donations and possibly new members.

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Eric Schlentner
ORHS Car Knocker & Gandy Dancer
http://www.orrvillerailroad.com


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