Train enthusiasts, sometimes referred to as “railfans,” are known to be passionate about the history of the railroads, and that history in the Tehachapi area is particularly rich. But you don’t have to be a railfan to be curious and captivated by the stories — and a visit to the Tehachapi Depot Railroad Museum is a must for anyone interested in trains, tracks and the history of railroading.

The museum opened in 2010 in a replica of the original Southern Pacific depot, which was destroyed in a fire in 2008. It was closed to the public for more than a year during the coronavirus pandemic, but is back open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday, said Doug Pickard, a volunteer member of the curator committee.

“We hope to open five days a week, but at this time we don’t have enough volunteers,” he said.

Filled with train equipment and artifacts from the late 1800s onward, the museum helps document a key moment in the nation’s history.

“The railroad came through here 145 years ago,” Pickard said. “This was the second cross-country railroad. ... They knew they needed a southern route.”

Indeed, the last spike driven at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869 completed the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. Crossing the Tehachapi Summit a few years later would open the way to the second.

The museum’s collection of old railroad tools and signals, photos and newspaper articles, lanterns, and dining cart china help transport visitors back to an era that deserves fresh exploration, examination and reflection, not only for its technological and transportation triumphs, but also for the era’s exploitation of vulnerable Chinese immigrants, whose work under backbreaking and often dangerous conditions made the completion of the railroads possible.

In a typical year, more than 10,000 visitors come to see the collection, much of it from the family of 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.

The museum is located in the heart of Tehachapi at 101 W. Tehachapi Blvd.

Although entry is free, donations are welcomed to help cover the museum’s operating costs. For more information, call the museum at 661-823-1100.