A field trip to the past

Second-graders from Park Side recently got a chance to experience some history at the End-O-Line Railroad Park and Museum

Four classes of second-grade students from Park Side Elementary School in Marshall took a ride on the railroad turntable at End-O-Line Railroad Park and Museum earlier this month. The turntable was used to turn train engines around after they reached the end of the railroad line.


They hadn’t gone back in time. But Marshall area second-graders got to look back at how life used to be in southwest Minnesota.

Steam engines, a historic train station, and a lot more sights were waiting for Park Side Elementary students earlier this month as they toured End-O-Line Railroad Park and Museum in Currie.

One of the students’ state learning standards is to be able to describe how people’s lives have changed over time, said Cheryl Hoff, a second-grade teacher at Park Side.

“So this field trip is an awesome way to see what life was like in the past,” she said.

The trip was funded by the Pride in the Tiger Foundation, Hoff said.

The Park Side second graders got their museum tour started off with a special experience. Four whole classes’ worth of kids, together with their teachers and chaperones, took a ride on the turntable, which was used to manually turn train engines around once they reached the end of the line in Currie. The device looked a bit like a bridge, that slowly rotated inside a stone-lined pit in the ground.

“These big old engines weighed about 110 tons, and two people could turn them around,” by pushing on poles at either end of the turntable, said museum coordinator Janet Timmerman.

Later, Park Side students got to learn about how steam engines worked, and the tools used to keep the train station running. It was an important job, Timmerman said, because everything in southwest Minnesota, from the people to the mail, used to travel by train.

“Why did they have dynamite here?” one student asked, after catching sight of some reddish tubes stored in the stationmaster’s office.

“It wasn’t dynamite,” Timmerman said. She asked the group what they thought the tubes — flares — might be used for.

“It’s so the train can see them,” another student answered.

The kids also got a chance to touch pieces of coal, like would have been used to power the furnace in the steam engine. The coal had to be shoveled into the furnace to make the train run, tour guide Anita Gaul said.

“Do you think that was a hot job?” she asked.

“Yes!” the class answered back.

Some of the exhibits the kids saw were a little more familiar to them, like the classroom inside the Sunrise School, the first school in Murray County. But going to school was very different over 100 years ago, tour guide Christy Riley said. Students would use slates and chalk instead of paper and pencils, and there weren’t very many books. Recess meant playing outside.

“What if it was winter, and it was too cold to play?” one student asked.

In that case, the class could stay inside the schoolhouse and keep warm, Riley said. But blizzards were still dangerous for people living on the Minnesota prairie.

Later, the kids got a chance to see what life would have been like outside school by touring a house where a railroad section foreman and his family would have lived. There weren’t as many of the amenities we’re used to today, like electricity and central heat. An icebox in the kitchen kept food cold instead of a refrigerator, and a grate in the living room ceiling let heat from a stove rise to the second floor of the house.

“I liked going into the upstairs of the house,” said Park Side student Danyka Jacques. Once they were upstairs, the second-graders said they could see through the grate in the floor to the living room. “But the stairs were really steep,” the kids said.

Sitting in the one-room schoolhouse, with its wooden desks, was also a different experience, they said.

“The chairs were kind of bumpy,” said student Cash Branstner.

Seeing the old steam engines at the museum was fun, too.

“I liked seeing all the old stuff, and learning how the trains worked,” said student Anna Thor.

It can be fun to see students’ reactions to the displays at the museum, tour guides said.

“A lot of kids are really interested,” Gaul said. There’s a lot they might not understand about the tools and technology of the past, including trains, she said. That especially goes for kids who live in communities where the railroad no longer passes through.