The Central Oklahoma Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) was founded in 1972 by railroad enthusiasts who had interests in modeling, photography, historic preservation, and riding trains. The Chapter discussed building a museum to be an outlet for sharing their hobby with the public. The museum would also be a central repository and display space for the many artifacts and equipment the group was collecting.
A start was made when some equipment was displayed behind the Kirkpatrick Center until the space was needed for an expansion of that facility. This required the equipment to be moved from the site and stored on a leased siding at the Oklahoma City Schools Maintenance grounds.
In 1987 the Chapter moved a portion of the equipment to Watonga, Oklahoma, and began running the Watonga Chief Dinner and passenger trains on the AT&L Railroad. At the time, this was the only operating passenger train in the state. It lasted until 1991 when costs began to exceed revenues and required the operation to be shut down. Equipment was then stored at Watonga on the AT&L siding, as there was no way to move it back to the Oklahoma City school siding, since the connecting track had been removed.
Members of the Chapter helped staff the Home Coming Trains that the state operated from Tulsa to Altus in 1990. The Chapter also crewed the Union Pacific trains that operated in eastern Oklahoma from Coffeyville, Kansas, through Muskogee, McAlester and Durant to Ft. Worth in 1992. This gave the Chapter their first experience in working with the Union Pacific and their passenger car fleet. The Chapter made no money on the trips, but did cover the expenses.
Lessons were learned with the 1992 trip, and the Chapter looked for a way to raise money to help provide a permanent home. Again, an opportunity was offered by the Union Pacific in the fall of 1995 with their historic E9 Diesel locomotives and passenger car fleet with seating for over 1600. The Chapter set about organizing a very professionally crewed passenger train with corresponding marketing efforts.
This time, over a snowy November 11th and 12th, the Chapter sold out both the trip from Oklahoma City to Shawnee and the trip from Oklahoma City to Enid, as well as selling a good number of seats on the Oklahoma City to El Reno trips. As a result, the Chapter had the seed money needed to purchase a museum site.
In the spring of 1997, the Chapter began working with the Center for Non-Profit Organizations to develop a business plan for the establishment of a railway museum. A five year plan was developed and approved by the members in November, 1997. Also, the Chapter began a partnership with the Central Oklahoma Parking and Transportation Authority (COPTA) for use of the old M-K-T tracks from NE 16th Street to NE 36st Street.
In exchange for keeping the right of way clean and mowed, as well as uncovering the track, the group could use the track for demonstrations of their equipment. During the first year, volunteers donated over 890 hours to clean and restore the right of way which included the Oklahoma City school yard siding where equipment was stored. Thus, the ability to operate demonstration trains started.
With this work underway, a piece of property was located along the line. The Chapter had approached the owners in 1997, but they did not want to sell at that time. They were again contacted in early 1999 and were now ready to sell.
In July 1999, the Chapter at last had property they could call home. It was very overgrown with weeds and trees but now the volunteers were working on Chapter property. The seed money from the Union Pacific trips in 1995 financed the purchase along with help from about eight members who made small loans to the Chapter which were paid back in three years. This allowed the Museum to get started with no real debt on the books.
The property was secured with a fence, a parking lot created, restrooms were built, and the master plan for the Museum began to develop. Members raised $50,000 to improve the site, purchase track materials, a 1905 depot, and to make plans to move the engines, freight, and passenger cars to the site. The Chapter at this time changed its name to the Oklahoma Railway Museum, Ltd., the Central Oklahoma Chapter of the NRHS (ORM).
Because the Museum had done so well with the COPTA lease, the Museum approached COPTA in early 2002 to renew the lease, adding an addition ½ mile right of way south to the Union Pacific live track and extending it to the north one mile from NE 36st Street to NE 50th Street, which was the end of the track. Once again, based on the professionalism of the members, COPTA agreed to the new lease with the additional right of way. This allowed the Museum to then clear and re-lay over 1600 feet of rail to tie the Museum track to live rail resulting in a length of operation of 3 miles. Over the Christmas-New Year’s holiday season in 2002, with the rail tied in, the AT&L Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad moved the stored equipment from Watonga to Oklahoma City and onto the Museum’s tracks. The dream was becoming a reality. Without support and cooperation of COPTA, the ORM would not be located where it is today.
Between 2000 and the present, the Museum has grown from one operating locomotive to fourth. The passenger car fleet and cabooses can handle over 350 passengers per train. A 7000 sq ft shop with two track bays was built, and a 1905 Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient Railway Company Depot was restored in 2005. ORM is handling a growing number of passengers annually, from approximately 150 in 2003 to over 16,000 in 2008.
The efforts of the Museum have been and continue to be supported by many people and organizations including; members of the Chapter, former State Senator Dave Herbert, the BNSF Railway, the Union Pacific Railroad, the A-OK Railroad, Farmrail, the Kiamichi Railroad, Bob Hussey Construction, Bags Inc., COPTA, the City of Oklahoma City, and the many visitors who visit the Museum annually. The Museum is also a member of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation which allows donations to be made and invested on behalf of the Museum. The Museum is a 501 c Non Profit tax exempt Oklahoma Corporation and, as of this time, has no debt: it operates within its budget on an annual basis. The growing membership, of approximately 200 members, has around 50 active members. Railroad operations are under the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and the Museum is a member of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), The American Association for State and Local History, (AASLH), the Oklahoma Museum Association (OMA), the Association of Tourist Railroads & Railway Museums (ATRRM), the National Railway Historic Society (NRHS), Frontier Country Tourism Association, and is an associate member of the Adventure District of Oklahoma City.