Grand Island has been a railroad center since the Union Pacific Railroad first reached here in July 1866, building westward as part of the original transcontinental railroad.
One-hundred and forty-six miles west of the starting point of the Union Pacific at Council Bluffs, Iowa, Grand Island became a major engine and crew change point. A depot and locomotive maintenance shops were erected and enlarged over time as the city steadily prospered from the commerce and convenient transportation provided by the railroad. Grand Island's business trade territory was expanded as other Union Pacific subsidiary main and branch lines were built in the 1879-1891 period, connecting Grand Island to both distant cities and local rural markets.
In 1885, the UP locomotive shop in Grand Island was converted to freight car construction and maintenance, a role it maintained for many years. UP's Grand Island roundhouse provided local employment as workers carried out repairs and maintenance on the steam locomotives. At its peak in the 1920s, the roundhouse consisted of 40 stalls where engines could be serviced.
Its location on the Union Pacific main line afforded Grand Island residents easy travel connections to Chicago and the West Coast on a series of fast and luxurious passenger trains between these points. The city's fourth UP depot, a substantial brick building with passenger, baggage and dining facilities, opened in 1918. The Burlington also built a large brick station for its Lincoln-Billings traffic a short distance north of the Union Pacific-Burlington crossing.
Despite the loss of much of the public's everyday interaction with the railroad industry, freight service has continued to make Grand Island part of two vital transportation corridors for its two railroads. Although the ability of diesel locomotives to operate longer distances eventually led to Grand Island being discontinued as a crew change point, the Union Pacific yard here remains busy as freight trains are organized and dispatched. In 1993 Union Pacific spun-off its remaining branch line out of Grand Island to the Nebraska Central Railroad.
Today, Grand Island continues to have a wealth of railroad activity 24 hours a day. The Union Pacific Railroad cuts through the heart of the city, the original transcontinental main line. The UP runs about 90 trains every 24 hours.
The fact that Grand Island was, and remains, a railroad town has drawn the interest of railroad enthusiasts from around the world. Many have come to observe and photograph the large number of freight trains that pass through the city on a daily basis. The city is otherwise home for organized railroad history and model railroad clubs.
Furthermore, Stuhr Museum's Railroad Town depot was a gift from the Union Pacific Railroad. It is a combination depot common to small communities of its era, a one-story, 18 by 50 foot wood frame structure. Also on display at Stuhr Museum are Union Pacific Engine 437, along with the Bosselman Family, Hoch Family Union Pacific Boarding Car, a fully restored Florence & Cripple Creek #65 coach and a UP caboose.