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Plano's Interurban Railway Museum features two new, interactive displays
'Electric Flame', 'Magnetic Suction' exhibits enhance museum's Electricity Room
By Amy Sandling Crawford
A pint-sized visitor at Plano’s Interurban Railway Museum presses a red button. An arc-shaped flame jumps between a pair of electrodes in the new "Electric Flame" exhibit at Plano's Interurban Railway Museum, filling the room with a snapping, buzzing, crackling sounds and delighting museum guests.
"This engaging, interactive display is one of two new exhibits in the museum's Electricity Room. The 250-pound Electric Flame display shows visitors how the arc of flame follows the path of an electric current between a pair of electrodes. Our new Magnetic Suction display shows visitors a behind the scenes look at what makes a doorbell work, and how wire coil solenoids and iron plungers pair to move pinball flippers, power the starter in a car and close valves in washing machines," said Russell Kissick, co-director of The Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation, Inc. The Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation Inc. is responsible for museum staffing and display development and is also involved in a variety of historic preservation efforts throughout the city.
The Electricity Room explains the role of electricity in Plano’s historic Interurban Railway system. The Electricity Room explains the electrical terms ampere, resistance, voltage and wattage and further explains the physical properties of electricity and how it powered the trains that once traveled to and from the Texas Electric Railway Station.
Museum staff and volunteers with expertise in electrical engineering worked together to select the new displays, which were designed and fabricated by the Exploratorium in San Francisco, Calif. The Exploratorium is a world-renowned children’s science museum and an innovator in presenting science principles in formats that are age-appropriate in design and concept.
The project was funded through grant funds provided by the city of Plano and The Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation Inc.
Located in downtown Plano, the Interurban Railway Museum is housed in a building that served as a primary stop on the Texas Electric Railway that ran from Denison to Dallas beginning in 1908. On Dec. 31, 1948, the Denison to Dallas Interurban made its last run.
The station remained closed until early 1990 when a complete restoration of the building was completed, and the building was converted into a museum by the city of Plano. The museum exhibits contains many artifacts associated with the Interurban Line, as well as a history of Plano.
Rail transportation powered by steam first arrived in Plano in 1872 and changed the agrarian lifestyle of early settlers who had traveled to this area by covered wagon. In the late 1880s inventors discovered the wonder of electricity and devised ways to harness this marvel into driving trolley cars previously drawn by mules or horses.
Located in downtown Plano, the Texas Electric Railway Station served to bring people, goods, newspapers with worldwide coverage, and traveling salesmen together in a timely fashion. A contract signed with the United States Post Office in 1914 permitted mail to be carried and delivered to the many towns along the line via the Texas Electric Railway System. Three interurban cars were refitted with bins, sorting tables, mail slots and cancellation stamps enabling two postal employees, in a secured rear compartment, to process mail as the car traveled north and south on its daily schedule.
The Interurban building in Plano was also an electric sub-station that converted the high voltage alternating current to direct current in order to power the line. This is the only remaining sub-station open for public tours on the Interurban line, which served as a primary stop on the Texas Electric Railway, linking Denison and Dallas beginning in 1908. The Interurban's impact on rural life was dramatic as it ended the isolation of distant farm families. Trains ran hourly from 6 a.m. to noon.
The Plano station closed on Dec. 31, 1948, when the Denison to Dallas Interurban made its last run. The building was used in a variety of ways until 1982. It was then closed until 1990, when a complete restoration of the building was completed by the city of Plano. The dedication of this Texas Historical Landmark was held on June 17, 1991, and was opened to the public as a museum.
The Interurban Railway Museum is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday 1 to 5 p.m. Visitors can learn about regional history in the history room, explore interactive displays in the science and electricity room and experience the working "O" scale model train layout and other period artifacts. The museum also offers tours of Railway Post Office Car #360. Tours are guided by a uniformed rail car motor man and guests learn about the rail post office system, discuss period advertising in the train car and learn more about electric rail travel.
For information, call 972-941-2117 or visit www.planoconservancy.org
About The Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation Inc:
The Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation Inc., a Texas corporation 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is an organization dedicated to promote civic pride in the past, to increase preservation awareness through education and public outreach, and to provide financial assistance to protect and preserve our heritage resources for this and future generations. For information, visit www.planoconservancy.org or call 972-941-2117.
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