If you ask a local in Fairfax, Virginia, “Where is the best place in the city to visit?” you’ll probably get a thousand different answers—the Civil War Interpretive Center, Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax Government Center Farmers Market, and the list goes on and on. But today, the spotlight is on the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum.
A sleek red caboose, like a glimmering ruby, lies in the middle of a thicket of winter-bare trees. Stepping up the wooden stairs from its side, we enter the narrow hallway of the caboose, our eyes caught by a three-dimensional map of a 1970’s village. On the map, a train track weaves through green-coated forests and a lofty bridge over a winding river, stretching to the remote mountains. The mini-town is life-like, with animals grazing on grassy hilltops and old-fashioned buildings lining along or near a train station.
Contrasting to the bright exterior view, the furniture inside the caboose is plain and basic. A discolored desk and a well-used leather chair form a tiny office for a crew member to operate the train and monitor its conditions. Locked equipment closets are fixed on two sides, making the working space even more cramped.
Next to the caboose is an exhibition of an assortment of conventional tools for maintaining and repairing trains and railroads, such as rail tongs for lifting rails and lanterns and torches for night inspection. The demonstration brings us back to the ages when trains were critical for the local economy and watching a train approaching with a whistle could make children gape in wonder and awe.
The museum lacks luxurious elements and sits in a small block that one could easily miss, but it embodies an important history of Northern Virginia and carries a symbolic value for the local community.