It's February 8, 1937. An African American Pullman porter is checking the ticket of a white passenger, who's eating oysters and sipping champagne. The porter then steps into the adjacent car and checks the tickets of the African-American passengers who are eating bread and cheese. The Chicago-bound train in this historical reenactment is not segregated according to destination or class: It is segregated according to ethnicity.
In observance of Black History Month, the Colorado Railroad Museum and the History Alive Reenactors Guild (HARG) are running four back-to-back performances of Locomotive of Dreams, "to portray what it was like for African-Americans to be on the train," says HARG chair John Thomas. "The porters on the train were paid very well and they made good tips. They would pick up newspapers from the South and share them with the North. They brought people food. Some of them would babysit. People who worked on the train, as far as the income for African-Americans, made pretty good money," says Thomas.
For Locomotive of Dreams, a black car, a white car and a caboose will recreate the experience of a northbound train on February 8, 1937 -- and then go even further back in time. "There are five scenes in the play," Thomas explains. "The first three scenes show a train ride that might be typical of one that took place in the mid-'30s. The last two short scenes take place around 1925, when railroad unionization efforts were at their peak. One reflects a typical conversation among 'colored' workers; the other is a discussion with a union organizer that reflects the different positions of the workers -- some wanted it, some were skeptical.
"Reenactor Claudette Sweet's father drove diesel engines on the tracks in the railroad yard in Texas," Thomas continues, "but because he was African-American, he couldn't drive the passenger train on a real trip. The caboose story will be based on her experience -- her family could stay in the caboose because her dad worked on the railroad."
Following the performance, Thomas, who grew up in the South under Jim Crow, will ask for questions from the audience about show, as well as the Reenactor group.
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Locomotive of Dreams will start at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday, February 8 at the Colorado Railroad Museum, 17155 West 44th Avenue in Golden. Museum members and children under two are free; adults are $15, seniors over sixty are $10, families are $30 and children two and over are $5. Online ticket sales are available now or on Saturday at the Colorado Railroad Museum Depot General Store.