Oklahoma Railway Museum kicks off Scout Merit Badge Program with railroad tales, tour and a ride

More than a dozen Boy Scouts and one Girl Scout learned about railroads at the Oklahoma Railway Museum's first Merit Badge Program even in April.The Oklahoma Railway Museum (ORM) recently launched the Gary Githens Railroading Merit Badge Program. And if initial response is an indicator, the program is bound for success.

Thirteen Boy Scouts, one Girl Scout and seven adult leaders arrived at the museum’s depot in Oklahoma City in April to learn about railroading, ride the rails, and spend the night camping. They also got an upclose look at a a few old cabooses.

After the train trip, the Scouts convened for a session on Operation Lifesaver conducted by Drake Rice in the museum’s Rock Island Party Coach, which serves as a classroom. The Scouts then went outside where Kamm told stories of cabooses, illustrating with ORM’s CRI&P No. 17834. The unusual caboose was originally built as a 40-ton Class B-2 boxcar, probably by the Bettendorf Co. of Iowa in 1915, for the CRI & P Railroad, according to the museum. It was modified into a caboose in 1940’s by the Rock Island Railroad. To make the change, the center section was cut out, end platforms were added, and a steel cupola was mounted of the roof. The car has underwent restoration in 2010.After introductions, activities began with a flag-raising ceremony conducted by the Scouts and attended by several museum volunteers. The Scouts and their leaders then boarded the 9:15 a.m. train and rode the Great Northern caboose for a 50-minute journey. For most of the Scouts, this was their first train ride.

Back in the classroom, members Tony Chamblin and Fred Jones began their presentation on the history of railroads and the various types of railcars. Anne Murray-Chilton and Eric Dilbeck prepared the presentation from content found on a public Boy Scout website.

Following an outdoor sack lunch, the Scouts toured the museum and learned firsthand about cab operations, diesel engines and knuckle couplers. Then it was more lectures on engines, braking, trucks, train schedules and signals.

Kamm also discussed model trains and showed examples of the different scales. The Scouts competed in teams of two on the museum’s HO-scale timesaver layout. At the end of the day, the guests operated the AT&SF handcar.

All of the Scouts received a Gary Githens Railroading Merit Badge Program patch and camped at the museum overnight.

“We hope this marks a new chapter in ORM history,” said member Steve Kamm, who helped create the program, which aims to provide education and experiences to help Boy Scouts earn their Railroading Merit Badge.

ORM members started planning the event Troop 6 of the Bartlesville, OK-based Cherokee Area Council contacted them in January.

The idea of a merit badge program was discussed at the next ORM board meeting, where it received enthusiastic support. After Githens died in January, the suggestion was made to name the program in his memory. He was a long-time ORM member, rail photographer, editor of The Dispatcher and also an active Boy Scout leader.

ORM received donations in honor of Githens (at his bequest), and in February the board approved allocating the funds as seed money for the program. Two long-term railroad employees, Chamblin and Jones, volunteered as hosts and program presenters. Together, they have more than 90 years of experience as brakemen and conductors for the Rock Island, Missouri-Kansas-Texas and Union Pacific railroads.

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