When curator Doug Pickard calls the Tehachapi Depot Railroad Museum “the centerpiece of the town,” he means physically, given its location in the heart of Tehachapi. But with the railroad running deep in the town’s history, it’s a fitting description of the museum metaphorically as well.

Though the museum only opened in 2010, its presence in the community predates its official opening. It was a long time coming when the museum was finally ready and able to show off its collection of train artifacts from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The museum, now in a replica of the original Southern Pacific depot used by the railroad, was initially going to be inside the original itself, but in 2008 the building was destroyed in a fire, just before it was set to open following years of planning and hard work.

But with a collection just waiting to be seen by history buffs and railfans, the Friends of the Tehachapi Depot lost no time getting to work on the new building. Pickard, who has been involved from the beginning, found a set of drawings of the original depot and encouraged the group to keep it as close to the real thing as possible. (Adding air conditioning, though, was a necessary deviation.)

“By that time, everyone in town was very pleased (with our work),” Pickard said. “There was a huge movement in town that we were going to rebuild it.”

The museum, which is run by volunteers, gets more than 10,000 visitors a year. Its collection includes old railroad tools, photos and newspaper articles, signals, lanterns, dining cart china and more. A lot of the collection came from Bill Stokoe, a retired railroad worker who died in 1999. Over the years, more artifacts have been donated by various people.

“People seem to be very pleasantly surprised with how much we have and how well displayed it is,” Pickard said.

The museum, now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is open Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 101 W. Tehachapi Blvd. Admission is the unbeatable cost of free. Call 661-823-1100 for more information.

“If you’re interested in the area, we have a really comprehensive display of our history and particularly the railroad,” Pickard said.