On a Friday afternoon in mid-April, the Carbon County Museum was tidy and quiet. From behind an old bank teller cage, Kelia McCuddy, of the visitor services staff, greeted guests warmly and expressed excitement at showing the renovations their team had worked on. The museum’s Union Pacific exhibit was in the process of being remodeled and was nearly 90% complete.
“We’ve updated it so well without it being too cluttered or cliché,” McCuddy said.
The Union Pacific railroad has a long and storied history in Carbon County. Union Pacific chose Rawlins as part of its division point due to its location near a permanent water source and its semi-arid climate. In Rawlins, the company operated not only as a train company, but also a hotel and an eatery. One might argue that Rawlins might not exist if that “iron horse” had not galloped through the area two centuries ago. The Union Pacific railroad planted the seeds that would ultimately bloom and become a bustling community that serves a ranching, oil and gas, and industrial economy.
Steven Dinero, director of the Carbon County Museum, felt that it was pertinent to expand and renovate the Union Pacific exhibit, particularly because of the company’s illustrious past and crucial role in the county’s history.
“Union Pacific is a very significant company to the settling of this community. Generations of people in this area have worked there,” Dinero said. Trains have been the lifeblood of communities across Western states, and so he wanted to showcase their importance.
Dinero began his job at the Carbon County Museum in 2018. When he arrived, he said that the Union Pacific exhibit was nice, but he felt that it didn’t fully reflect the significance of the company for Carbon County. It was more understated. His goal was to amplify this part of history.
In 2019, the Carbon County Museum was awarded a grant from the Union Pacific Foundation to do just that. But, of course, in 2020 the pandemic struck and everything, including local museum renovations, came to a screeching pause. However, by fall 2020, they started working on the exhibit again.
“It’s been a group effort, needless to say,” Dinero said. He explained that many community members have stepped forward to offer donations to the exhibit.
As he stood next to a display case filled with Union Pacific-branded dinnerware, he said that the company branded almost everything. He has received donations of Union Pacific matchboxes, silverware, and even a Union Pacific yo-yo.
The museum has also received larger donations, such as a huge metal sign that reads “Rawlins,” a train thermometer and an old coupler, all salvaged from the Rawlins train depot. These donations came from former Union Pacific trainmaster, Ricky Durrant, of Omaha, Nebraska. For Dinero, he could hardly believe his luck, and expressed excitement and gratitude at the donations, big and small.
“I think now we are telling a story in a way that’s clearer,” he said. He hopes that, in the near future, the exhibit can be on display on their website. When this occurs, people will be able to access it from anywhere in the world.
Dinero expects the exhibit revamp to be totally complete by May 13. In the meantime, visitors can come to see the mostly renovated exhibit for free and can also check out a number of the other interesting Carbon County historical objects adorning the museum halls.