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Death Valley railroad museum receives rare artifacts

The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad Museum at Death Valley Junction, California received some valuable artifacts on Oct. 22.

John F. Pilger Phd., the grand-nephew of Charles Strande, a Tonopah and Tidewater railroad employee, donated some photographs to the museum of Strande working on the railroad and a switch key.

"There are very few artifacts left of this railroad and that's why Pilger's visit was so important," John Slikker said. "So few artifacts of the railroad survived. Most of the locomotives and cars were scrapped. All of the employees have since passed away and that's why it's so important to get such a donation."

John and Dorothy Slikker are the founders of the museum, which features an H.O. scale model of the entire route of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad.

The Slikkers have labored for three years constructing the model, which is 75 percent completed. Currently the town of Ludlow is being constructed, but it is almost complete.

He then explained a railroad switch key is like a badge to a sheriff.

"The key was one of a kind and only worked on that railroad," John Slikker said.

According to John Slikker, Charles Strande retired in 1937 from the railroad as a ticket agent. Strande passed away in 1967.

The museum, located in the town of Death Valley Junction, California next to the Amargosa Hotel, has some other artifacts that were donated from other people, some photographs, a rail plate that once was used on the tracks and a can of Borax soap.

John Slikker said there is nothing left of the actual tracks because all of the rails were destroyed in the World War II war effort because steel was so valuable.

"There are two versions of that story," John Slikker said. "One has all the rails going to Africa to make rails for the allies. The other story has all the steel being melted down in the United States for the war effort."

According to Dorothy Slikker, the train models that the Slikkers have on the model tracks are as accurate as they can make them.

"We know for a fact that the cabooses had four windows instead of the common three and so our cabooses have four windows," Dorothy Slikker said. She also said all the decals were custom made specifically for their model.

John Slikker worked on the train models while his wife worked on the landscape art. The two have used firsthand accounts and historical photographs to get the trains and towns as accurate as possible.

In addition to the model of the railroad, the museum has a gift store too.

The Slikkers are at Death Valley Junction because the town was an original stop for the railroad. They are grateful that Death Valley Junction owner, Marta Becket, has allowed them to stay rent free for five years. They have also received help in the model construction from Bob Carter, Mike McAnally and Doris Smith. The Slikkers also want to thank Walthers Model Railroading and the Henderson Lowes for their contributions.

Despite not being completed, the museum is open to visitors on Thursday and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Contact reporter Vern Hee at vhee@pvtimes.com. Find him on Twitter: @vernheepvt.

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