Rail Fairs

Throughout the existence of railroads, the public has held a fascination with locomotives (especially steam locomotives). Over the years, many gatherings of locomotives, or "rail fairs" have taken place. As I find information on these fairs, I will add it to this page.

World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893

The railroad exhibition was only a small portion of this huge fair. However, it layed out the ground-work for future railroad fairs. This fair lasted six months.

Locomotives Present


1901 Pan American Exposition, Buffalo, NY

This was the first major fair of the 20th century. Starting in May, it ran for seven months. On display were samples of the latest motive power from all of the major locomotive builders.

1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

Big Four Locomotive on Turntable This fair lasted for eight months. Transportation was one of the largest and most important attractions of this fair.

At the center of the Palace of Transportation was a rotating turntable carrying "a mammoth locomotive weighing over 200,000 pounds." The headlight on this locomotive was illuminated as the locomotive spun around. Also, the body of the locomotive was supported such that the drivers were allowed to continuously rotate. This display was named The Spirit of the Twentieth Century. Photo of CCC&StL Atlantic locomotive courtesy Mike Truax. A 3D (stereo) view of this same display was provided by John Archibald.

In another location at this fair, the first locomotive testing facility was designed by the PRR and operated as an exhibit. This unique plant consisted of a test stand that let a locomotive run on rotating drums whose rotation could be regulated through braking to simulate the load of a train under various operating conditions. During the course of the fair, a number of locomotives were "tested" while the public viewed. After the fair was over, the testing facility was dismantled and reassembled at the PRR Altoona Works in 1905.

Locomotives Present


1927 B&O Fair of the Iron Horse, Baltimore, MD

This fair marked the 100th year of the B&O Railroad. The B&O displayed both old and new locomotives. Six steam locomotives from this fair are shown in this photo. There was no caption with this photo stating which locomotives were pictured. However, I have identified most of them. If anyone recognizes one and can fill in more informatin, let me know. From left to right the information I have is:
  1. King George V Great Western 4-6-0 #6000, photo (now on display at Swindon Railway Museum, Wiltshire, UK)
  2. Canadian National class U-2-a 4-8-4 No. 6100, photo, photo
  3. Canadian Pacific class G3D 4-6-2 No. 2333?
  4. NYC Hudson 5205
  5. PRR K4 Pacific 5475 (sent directly from Altoona), photo of 5475 doubleheaded with 1401
  6. B&O Class T 4-8-2 5501. See photos.

Locomotives Present


Chicago World's Fair (Century of Progress Exposition), 1933

Locomotives Present

Chicago World's Fair (Century of Progress Exposition), 1934

Locomotives Present


Chicago Exposition of 1938

Over 30,000 attended this event.

Locomotives Present

1939-1940 New York World's Fair (Railroad on Parade)

PRR 6100 In 1939 the PRR built their first duplex-drive locomotive. The shrouding was designed by Raymond Loewy. During the first two summers of its existence (1939-40), 6100 was displayed under steam at the New York Worlds Fair. Its drivers were supported by rollers which allowed them to turn (under steam) so that the fair goers could watch. During this period, the tender was lettered "AMERICAN RAILROADS".

NYC vs PRR Rivals NYC Hudson 5449 and streamlined PRR K4 Pacific 3768 pose nose-to-nose at the 1939 World's Fair.

Locomotives Present


Chicago Railroad Fair of 1948 and 1949

The last major display of vintage railroad equipment occurred during this fair.

Locomotives Present



1954 Indiana State Fair -- Transportation - Its Role in the Growth of Agriculture and Industry

Among the exhibits displayed at this fair were 19 pieces of modern equipment, five pieces of vintage equipment, and an 8-car air-conditioned passenger train.

General Motors Corporation - "Powerama", Chicago August 31, 1955

Powerama was not a "railfair". Instead, it was a promotional event organized by General Motors to exhibit their current and future plans including the world's first solar-powered automobile. It was a 15-inch sunmobile built by William G. Cobb of the General Motors Corporation with 12 selenium photoelectric cells. The light was converted into electric current that powered a tiny electric motor with a driveshaft connected to the rear axle by a pulley.

In spite of the electric car, Powerama was a diesel engine power show. Its purpose was to show modern power on: oil wells, cotton gins, cranes, trucks, tractors, military equipment, and other machinery where power was used. Powerama visitors also witnessed an E-8 demonstrator unit up off the rails and running.

Powerama ran for twenty eight days to show their exhibits to two million five hundred thousand people free of charge. Of course, with a show of this size they had to have a sawmill. Corely Manufacturing Co. of Chattanooga, TN was selected to furnish the sawmill. They were one of the largest manufacturers of sawmills in the business.

The Helle brothers of Savanna and Oregon, Illinois were chosen to furnish the logs and their technical ability at sawing the logs. The Oregon crew sawed thirteen hours a day for fourteen days. Then the Savanna crew ran the mill the same comparable time for the same number of days.

Railway Week, Belleville, Ontario, June 22-28, 1964

Canadian National and employees of the Rideau Area take pride in welcoming you to RAILWAY WEEK.

Almost everything today is new in railroading. Sleek diesels eat up the miles faster than ever. Research and development keep turning out special kinds of freight. There is also a continuing effort to improve passenger equipment so that train travel is smoother and more comfortable.

Canadian National is your Company. See it in action. Talk to the men who manage part of it.

From the Railway Week Official Program.

Belleville, ON Six Canadian National locomotives line up during Railway Week. From left to right they are:

  1. 6534, an FP9A (currently active in Winnipeg)
  2. 6400, a class U-4-a Northern (currently in Ottawa), was the first of a series of streamlined Northerns built in 1936 for the CNR. In 1939, no. 6400 pulled the Royal Train and was at the New York World's Fair.
  3. 6167, a class U-2-e Northern (currently in Guelph), was built in 1940. At the time it was the only operational Northern in Canada. CNR had over 200 dual-purpose locomotives of this design.
  4. 5700, a class K-5-a Hudson (currently at the Elgin County Railway Museum (CNR shops), St. Thomas), is one of only five of this type of locomotive. It was built in 1930 for the fast afternoon flyer between Montreal and Toronto.
  5. 40, a 4-4-0 (currently in Ottawa), was the only woodburner locomotive in Canada used for exhibition purposes. It was built in 1872 for the GTR and operated for many years in passenger service between Portland, ME and White River Junction, VT.
  6. 247, an 0-6-0ST (currently in Ottawa), was built in 1894 for the Grand Trunk Railway. It was used for many years in yard service at Montreal.
Note: The 5700 is "really" 5703. After its retirement, it was acquired by the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa. They had some other locomotives which were the first of their series, such as CN 6400 and CP 3100, so 5703 was renumbered 5700 to match the others. 5703/5700 was at the NMST in Ottawa until 1988. Up until August of 1998, 5700 was still the property of Canadian National Railways! The ownership had never been transferred. The Elgin County Railway Museum now owns this locomotive.

1964/1965 New York World's Fair

Steam Locomotives Present

Photos of The General passing through Carlisle and Miamisburg, OH in the summer of 1963 on its way to the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair. Photos courtesy Chuck Smith. The General is currently an exhibit within the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, GA.

Railfair '81 Sacramento, CA

no info available

Steam Locomotives Present

1984 Louisiana World's Fair, New Orleans

Locomotives Present

Vancouver's SteamExpo of 1986

Vancouver's SteamExpo was held during May-June of 1986. A total of 21 locomotives (and one crane) were in steam for the event, with 18 of those in service for the entire two-week period. This would make SteamExpo North America's largest gathering of operating steam locomotives since the end of the steam era.

Locomotives Present

All these locomotives, except for 6060, were under steam throughout SteamExpo, moving back and forth through the yard as required. The UP engine even spent an afternoon working the regular CN yard trick, and CN 1392 handled switching duties as the many engines arrived. Delayed by a major rebuild in Jasper, Alberta, 6060 made a spirited run to the coast, and arrived in time to take part in the last few days of the show. Two locomotives, the Quincy Railroad 2-6-2T and a red Pickering Lumber Co. 3-truck Shay were in steam for the first day of the show, but had their fires dropped because of problems with boiler certification. A lack of enthusiasm from BN prevented SP 4449 and UP 844 from attending.

Honorable mention can also go to CPR 4-4-0 #374, the first locomotive to pull a train into Vancouver (1886). With low-pressure steam leaking from pops, valves and whistle, the elderly American-type spent the several months of Expo '86 on the turntable of the former CPR Drake St. Roundhouse, right in the middle of the Expo site.

Also, former CPR 2-8-0 #3716 was unable to attend because of commitments on the other side of the city; hauling passengers on B.C. Rail's daily 80 mile (on 2.2 per cent grades!) round trip along the Pacific coast to Squamish.

Railfair '91, Sacramento, CA

Coming to historic Old Sacramento, California...May 3-12, 1991...The power...the majesty...the spectacle...and the pageantry of one of the world's greatest collections of operating steam locomotives, railroad equipment and exhibits from across America and as far away as Great Britain...together in one place...at one time...Come to Old Sacramento and see... Railfair '91 will have something for everyone...Older folks will be fascinated with the nostalgia...and everyone will be intrigued by the sheer size and majesty of a form of transportation many have yet to experience...Children of all ages will marvel at the toy and model trains, and the live steam locomotives...There will be an extensive exhibit of railroad photography and art...and the Railroad Musical Revue will capture the hearts of fair goers as locomotives roll across the stage in a musical salute to railroading... Railfair '91 will commemorate the Museum's 10th anniversary with a grand spectacle emphasizing the history and diversity of the railroad industry. It is destined to be remembered as the great railroad event of the second half of the 20th Century.
From Railfair '91 promotional material...

Railfair '91 Ahhh. The sweet smell of coal smoke in the air! Railfair '91 was one of the largest gathering of steam locomotives during the past 10 years. It took place in Sacramento, CA at the California State Railroad Museum.

Railfair '91 Pictured (left-to-right) Western Pacific F-7A #913, Southern Pacific GS-4 #4449,and General Motors EMD FT #103 (GM's 1st diesel engine, used for demoing diesel power).

Steam Locomotives Present

Diesel Locomotives Present

Norfolk Southern's 25th Anniversary of Steam Excursions

Norfolk Southern Triple Header On Nov. 1-3, 1991, Norfolk Southern, in conjunction with the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, hosted a celebration at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, in Chattanooga, TN. The event was highlighted by this triple header excursion with 4501 on the point, followed by 611, and 1218 bringing up the rear. A photo very similar to mine may be seen in the Feb, 1992 issue of TRAINS on page 11. Many more details on this celebration and the envents that led up to it may be seen in the Aug. 1991 issue of TRAINS on pages 30 - 44.

Steamtown's Grand Opening, July 1995

Paul R. Tupaczewski has put together information on this event.

Railfair 1999