In the railway preservation field, possibly more than any other, there is a dramatic difference in visual impact between moving and static displays. Without doubt the sight and sound of a moving steam train, for example, is one of the strongest drawcards around. The Pichi Richi (Quorn) and Steamranger (Victor Harbor) operations are prime examples of this. From a museum perspective though, the idea of ever achieving such a goal is out of the question. Apart from the difficulty of attracting appropriately skilled volunteers, the reams of government requirements which must be met make ordinary museum operational requirements look like a cup of tea.
So how does a museum best showcase a large stationary object such as a railway locomotive or wagon to best evoke its former role? I don’t know the right answer to this, or even if there is just one answer, but one display in particular caught my attention as an example of very effective presentation. Ten years ago I visited the Millicent National Trust Museum, which is not a railway-themed establishment, and the display built around the former South Australian Railways T Class locomotive was, to me, eye-catching (see the photograph).
The locomotive is a static display – no hissing steam, no smoke, no coal aroma – but it was the surrounds which to me lifted it visually. The properly ballasted track, the platform behind the loco, the open pavilion which reflected the architecture of SAR freight sheds, the signal mast, the water column and the railway telephone pillbox were well chosen and well placed to create a context for the static object.
Is this an example of best practice for large railway displays? Are there other approaches which are just as effective, or even more so? I’d love to hear your ideas and examples.