With the railroad an important part of the town’s history, a visit to the Tehachapi Depot Railroad Museum is a must for anyone interested in trains.

Full of train artifacts from the late 1800s and early 1900s, the museum is “the centerpiece of the town,” according to its curator, Doug Pickard. He means that literally, but its importance to the community and its connection to history can’t be understated.

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

The museum opened in 2010 but getting it to that point took a community effort.

Initially, the museum was going to be inside the original Southern Pacific depot used by the railroad, but in 2008 the building was destroyed in a fire, not long before the museum was set to finally open after years of planning.

“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.”

And so they did. The Friends of the Tehachapi Depot quickly got to work on building a replica of the original depot. Helping the group’s work was a set of drawings of the original that Pickard found. He said the project closely hewed to the original with one major, but necessary, change: air conditioning.

Now the Friends’ hard work has paid off with the perfect place to showcase a collection of old railroad tools, photos and newspaper articles, signals, lanterns and dining cart china, to name a few. Each year, more than 10,000 visitors come to see the collection, much of it from Bill Stokoe, a retired railroad worker who died in 1999.

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

Visitors will be able to find the museum in the heart of Tehachapi at 101 W. Tehachapi Blvd., right in the center of town. Its doors are open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Monday, and it is closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

Though entry is free at the museum, donations are welcomed to help it cover operational costs. For more information, call the museum at 661-823-1100.