ABOUT GOLD COAST RAILROAD MUSEUM
The Gold Coast Railroad Museum is a result of the coming together of persons and events that helped shape what is now one of today's
premier railroad museums in the United States.
It all began in August, 1956. William J. Godfrey, a Business Administration student attending the University of Miami (UM), and "rail enthusiast," had heard that the university's 'south campus' contained miles of unused railroad tracks. That site was 2,100 acres of high pineland located in southern Miami-Dade County. The property had been Naval Air Station Richmond (NASR) - A WWII airship base. A few years after the war, the Navy left the base and the land was leased to the University of Miami from the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) for non-profit educational and research purposes. The University used the base as a remote campus for returning GI's and for botanical research. Being an all male campus, the students could use the same barracks that the Navy had recently abandoned.
Bill reasoned that, with over three miles of tracks, the old base would be a great place to have an operating steam engine. It could be used as an engineering, educational, and historical attraction. He presented the idea to Dr. Jay F.W. Pearson, President of the University, who just happened to be a rail fan. President Pearson liked the idea and thus the seed GCRM was planted.
The U.S. Sugar Company (USSC) agreed to donate the Florida East
Coast Locomotive #153 to the UM. Months of preparations for the
movement were completed, and on February 19, 1957, the locomotive
left USSC on its trip to Miami. The engine moved "cold" over Atlantic
Coast Line, Florida East Coast Railway, and Seaboard Air Line trackage to reach the South Campus. On Friday, April 12, 1957, at 2:30 p.m., the #153's acceptance ceremonies were performed at the South Campus. The gathering took place on a portion of the old Navy blimp landing pad. In attendance were UM President Pearson, US Sugar Executive V.P. H.T. Vaughn, as well as representatives of the FEC, ACL, and SCL. At the same time the Miami Railroad Historical Society (MRHS) was created under the umbrella of the UM to oversee the maintenance and operation of the locomotive on the university property.
A 'Sweet' Steam Engine
The MRHS was "steamed-up" and "ready to roll." The persons originally involved were: William J. Godfrey - President; Henry G. Dooley -Vice President; and Charles H. Rose III - Secretary/Treasurer. The original Board of Directors: Robert L. Beekman, Lois Beekman, Joan Lea Godfrey, Nina Creel Taylor, Erle B. Nelson, and John R. Edmonds. Additional early supporters were "Johnny" Johnson, Bill Moneypenny, Wayne Whistler, Walter Locke, Leo DeSola, and Charles Flygare.
The MRHS set up their operations in a small portion of one of the former Navy wooden warehouses and called it "Dogpatch Station." The society members named their rail operations the "Gold Coast Railroad." On those Sundays when the MRHS operated for the public, many members would dress up in "period" clothing to add to the visitors' experience. Walter Locke, later to become President of the organization, often dressed as a convincing railroad hobo. Visitors were treated to train rides behind a real operating steam locomotive. The train was called the "Gold Coast Special." The cost to ride in 1961 was 50 cents including admission. The engineers paid $2.00 per half hour to cover the cost of fuel.
A Presidential Railcar
In April 1958, the former Presidential Pullman "Ferdinand
Magellan" was declared "surplus" by the U.S. Government.
This was the armor plated railcar used by Presidents
Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower. Mr. Godfrey learned
that the car would be going on the surplus list and with
knowledge that surplus items must be first offered to any of
the 48 states willing to request the object. Wasting no time,
Bill again approached the President of the University of
Miami, Dr. Pearson with the idea of obtaining this unique car.
The UM president agreed, and on August 11, 1958, Dr. James
M. Godard, made the formal request to Mr. R.B. Beard of the
Florida Development Commission that the "Ferdinand
Magellan" be acquired by the State of Florida for the UM. Apparently, no other state made a request and the car was transferred to the State which then passed ownership to the University of Miami, as a non-profit educational organization. On January 17, 1959, the "Ferdinand Magellan" arrived at the South Campus and drew much attention. The car arrived with very little to identify it as the former U.S. Car No. 1; no speaker cones on the roof; no presidential seal on the rear platform - not even its name on the side of the car, but what a wonderful prize for the still small MRHS. Shortly, the car was opened to visitors.
Missiles, the CIA and our Liability
Everything seemed to be rolling along nicely. The public was invited to come ride the train on certain Sundays. Plans were being made to erect a shelter for the steam engine to allow work to be done out of the weather. The MRHS was increasing its membership. Then, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. The G.S.A. determined that some of the land leased to the University would be needed for a large "listening post" for the C.I.A. The University, under pressure from the G.S.A., and raising the issue of liability of running a steam locomotive, informed the MRHS that the museum would no longer be able to operate the "Gold Coast Railroad" on the South Campus and would have to look elsewhere to find a new home for its activities.
As a result, on November 13, 1966, at 11:30 a.m., the Gold Coast Railroad (MRHS) chugged off the South Campus property heading for a new found home in Ft. Lauderdale, Broward County. The UM transferred ownership of all rail locomotives, cars, and rail objects to the MRHS. The train was pulled by the #153 under steam.
While arrangements were being made for a long-term home in Broward County, the Beekmans made arrangements with the Broward Port Authority to call Port Everglades, at least temporarily, the museum's new home. There was no running of the locomotive at the port. The museum had become a static display. The name of the organization was changed to Gold Coast Railroad, Inc., (GCRR) on January 4, 1967.
Running along the north side of Ft. Lauderdale airport was a rail track that connected the Seaboard Coast Line (SCL) Railroad to Port Everglades. The SCL was agreeable to the museum operating on the line so long as there was no interruption in their schedule. The Beekmans, being well "connected" in Broward County, contacted a Mr. Snyder who had a small rock quarry along the side of that track. An agreement was worked out whereby the museum would be located on a portion of his property. There was not much usable land on the property. The Beekmans brought in fill to bring the area of the museum up to the grade of the adjacent track and make enough land for the buildings and a parking lot. They then set about to build a three-track, concrete train shed which could hold approximately 9 pieces of rail equipment. They also underwrote the building of a beautiful "turn of the century," country-styled, passenger station of brick and detailed wood trim. It was named Loisville for Mrs. Beekman.
The remainder of the quarry property, along with the Gold Coast's portion, was to become a part of the Ft. Lauderdale park system known as Snyder Park. The land area of the GCRR was quite limited, and as a result the museum's rail collection could not expand to any great degree. Over the next few years it would have two operating steam engines and trains that would operate on the weekends back and forth along the north side of the Ft. Lauderdale airport. At times there were bandits who would "rob" the train on foot or on horseback. The train rides were a popular attraction for the South Florida residents and visitors.
In 1983, the Florida Department of Transportation notified the museum that plans were being finalized to build an east-west expressway to be know as I-595. The elevated route would run through the museum's location. Once again the museum had to look for a new home.
In Dade County, the National Park Service (NPS) was looking to acquire land on the bottom of Biscayne Bay for a National Monument. It was learned that the federal prison adjacent to the new MetroZoo had surplus property it did not need. Through the assistance of U.S. Representative Dante Facell, a land "swap" was arranged. The NPS got the bay bottom it wanted and Dade County got 56+ acres of park land to be leased to the Gold Coast Railroad. It was a portion of the same property that the museum had occupied in the 1960's at former Naval Air Station Richmond.
Once more the museum was on the move. Packing began and with all the museum items loaded onto flatcars, gondolas, and into boxcars, the train was assembled. Pulled by a Seaboard Coast Line (SCL) diesel-electric locomotive, the Gold Coast "Special" train headed south, back to its old home.
Back Home Again
So in 1984, the next "new" home for the museum would be the areas of hangars #1 and #2 of former airship base. Over the years since the museum had moved away, many shrubs, Florida Holly, and grasses had taken over the old hangar floors. These were scraped away and three additional tracks were constructed into the concrete pad of what was hangar #1. Rail was re-established to connect to CSX's mainline at the western end of the property. A large "butler building" was erected over a third of the length of the four tracks now in hanger #1's floor.
In 1904, the "Princeton Station" had been built on the mainline of the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) between Miami and Homestead. In the 1950's it had been moved and preserved at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne. The station was now to be relocated to the Gold Coast's new home. As the roof was too high to make the road trip, a new roof was constructed on the
station after arrival at the museum. The station became the entrance and museum store for the "new" Gold Coast.
An "old time" patio clock was acquired and added a nice look to the museum. Using steam engine #113, a steam trip to the city of Homestead was operated with the hope of making many more in the future. Insurance costs "killed" those plans, but the museum did have enough track to operate short trips on their property. For a year or so, Civil War re-enactors would occasionally "detain" the trains and look for traitors, valuables, and money.
Miami's First National
In 1977, the Ferdinand Magellan was designated a "National Historic Site." A short time later and for many years thereafter, paperwork was filed to have the car nominated as a "National Historic Landmark." While the museum was still in Ft. Lauderdale, in the summer of 1984, plans were made to have the car travel to Washington, D.C., where it would be inspected by the Park Service and possibly visited by then President Ronald Reagan. While these plans were being finalized, the White House contacted the museum and proposed that the Magellan be used as the centerpiece of a one day, whistle stop re-election campaign train for President Reagan to be run in Ohio. This new plan was further developed and when the car arrived in Washington in early October it was put under the control of the United States Secret Service which "prepared" the Magellan for Presidential use. The car soon left on the positioning move to Dayton.
The Ferdinand Magellan was officially back in Presidential service, if only for one day. The date: October 12, 1984. Once the trip was completed, the Magellan returned to Washington and was on display at Washington Union Station. The Magellan was available for visitations by many Washington politicians as well as the local and national press. It then returned to Ft. Lauderdale, and was moved to Miami as the museum relocated.
Soon thereafter, word was received that the Presidential Pullman was indeed to be designated a "National Historic Landmark," as well as to be Miami-Dade County's first National Landmark. The official date: Monday, February 4, 1985. A short time later, with a color guard in attendance, the National Park Service presented the "National Historic Landmark" plaque to the Gold Coast Railroad during official ceremonies held on the Magellan's rear platform, under the train shed of the museum. Today, the Ferdinand Magellan remains "available" for Presidential service.
Andrew, Andrew, Andrew!
It has been said that "into life a little rain must fall." Yes, but not at with winds at 170 miles per hour! August 24, 1992. Hurricane Andrew roared into southern Dade County. The Gold Coast was hurt "bad" by the storm. The display shed was uprooted from its foundation and the building collapsed over the collection of equipment. One of the building's overhead beams pierced the roof of the Ferdinand Magellan. The "Silver Crescent" had a beam crush down on its "Vista Dome." The car also had a window blown out allowing the monstrous winds inside. On the South Pad a long string of coupled equipment were flipped onto their sides. The historic Princeton Station lost its roof and the remaining
structure collapsed, never to be rebuilt. The site of the museum was of great devastation. It took a heavy emotional toll on the members, some of whom would not be seen at the museum again. The most costly storm in United States history might well have brought the Gold Coast Railroad to the "end of the line" - except for the "help" of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).
A mandate from FEMA claimed that they would put all non-profits back to their pre-Andrew condition. In the case of the museum, that would end up being a multi-million dollar promise and take over 8 years to accomplish. Rebuilding the museum was to become a very long and arduous process. Along the way many rough times were encountered. A very small core of museum volunteers would "hang in there" through that time to see the project completed. It was not to be an easy job. All the equipment had to remain outside in the tropical environment, sun, rain, and heat, suffering much as a result. During this time the museum did not look very presentable. The entrance and store was a cheap house trailer. Visitors had to endure the sun and rain as they walked the museum grounds.
A New Millennium:
In April 1998, the museum changed its name to "Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Inc." to more accurately reflect its educational goals.
Finally, at LONG last, the new, and much strengthened museum display building was completed and ready for the equipment to be placed inside. This was a major joy and relief for all who had worked for so many years to bring the museum to that point. The new museum store came shortly thereafter. Finally, the Gold Coast was "looking" again like the first class museum that it is.
In April 2007, Gold Coast Railroad Museum reached its 50 year anniversary. Expansion of the MetroZoo's master plan is hoped
to increase the museum's attendance and importance as an educational destination for students, residents and visitors. As the museum continues to expand and grow, we strive to reach out to more community members and rail enthusiasts, to educate and enlighten each individual.