All Aboard to the Laupahoehoe Train Museum

By Katie Young Yamanaka
Photo courtesy of dannyman

Laupahoehoe Train Museum. Photo: dannyman.

A visit to the Laupahoehoe Train Museum offers a glimpse into the history of railroads on the island of Hawaii.

Though the museum is one of the smallest in the state, the community-run facility on the Hamakua Heritage Coast still sees more than 5,000 visitors a year from all over the world.

It is located in the old station agent’s house and furnished as it would have been in the early 1900s, thanks to community residents who restored and furnished the home themselves.

Open since 1998, the Laupahoehoe Train Museum features an extensive photo collection, railroad artifacts and memorabilia. There’s even a train table where little ones can get hands-on play.

A Railroad for the Sugar Business

Laupahoehoe Train Museum. Photo: Jimmy Emerson.

Inside the museum, you can learn about the Hilo Railroad, which was built in 1899 but was irreparably damaged by a tsunami in 1946. You’ll also learn about Hawaii’s plantations and the history of the Hamakua Coast.

There’s a model train room, with a “Center N’ Gauge” display that represents the Hilo Railroad-Hawaii Consolidated Railway line, and a static “HO gauge model” created by Stan Heggland, which won a National Golden Spike award for its design and craftsmanship.

It was agricultural entrepreneur B.F. Dillingham from Honolulu who financed the laying of the tracks between Hilo and Ola‘a (which is now the area of Kea‘au) to service his sugar mill. The main business of the railroad was to transport raw sugar and other products to and from the mills, but it also provided passenger service.

Caboose, Boxcar and Rusty

Laupahoehoe Train Museum. Photo: Danny Howard.

The yard of the Laupahoehoe Train Museum now features the area known as the wye, a place where the train engine’s direction can be switched. In this spot, there’s a replica standard gauge caboose, a newly restored narrow gauge boxcar and a working diesel switch engine.

The switch engine, affectionately named “Rusty,” is the last engine on the island that is left fairly intact. The engine was brought back to life and is operated on tour days and special occasions, so visitors can see how it runs on the track, but no rides are given.

The boxcar, an old explosives hauling car, was donated by Kamehameha School’s Bishop Estate. The standard gauge replica caboose, based on one that was used on the Hilo Railroad main line, features displays for those interested in climbing on board.

The museum also has a small gift shop that carries some fun hand-crafted items, museum logo apparel, books, videos, pottery, artwork, and unique railroad toys.

Visiting the Laupahoehoe Train Museum

Laupahoehoe Train Museum. Photo: Danny Howard.

The Laupahoehoe Train Museum is located at 36-2377 Mamalahoa Highway along Highway 19 near mile marker 25. Follow the brown Hilo-Hamakua Heritage Corridor signs along the Highway 19 roadway.

The museum is across the road from the coast’s only service station. They are approximately 30 minutes north of Hilo and 25 minutes from Honoka‘a.

Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and kama’aina, $3 for students. There is a special $15 family rate with special rates for tours.

The museum is open Thursday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Monday to Wednesday by appointment; closed on all major holidays. To schedule a tour or private appointment call (808) 962-6300 or email laupahoehoemuseum@gmail.com.

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