As Claire Saucier walks down the an aisle in the Iron Spike Train Museum, surrounded by cityscapes she stops to point out small details in the model train diorama, like a small tire in a river or a woman waiting in line for the restroom.
She points out one display of bright green bluffs overlooking a run of model train tracks she says reminds her of the view across the river from Washington. It’s her favorite in the shop.
After working as a teacher and a career as an officer in the Air Force that spanned more than 20 years, Saucier has found a new challenge in tending to and preserving the history of trains at the museum.
It was only a year and a half ago when Saucier and her husband, Don Burhans, began their work at the museum. She says, in many ways, her work as an educator has continued at the museum.
The museum’s mission is to educate the public about the history of locomotives, honor and preserve the history of train history in the Midwest and provide a hands-on experience for children and adults through the several collections at Iron Spike.
Saucier says preserving the history of trains is important because these days, most young people aren’t familiar with locomotives. She says, often, some children won’t be familiar with the concept and historical significance of trains.
“It’s critical,” Saucier says. “The world is moving so fast and so many things are falling by the wayside. As we all get older there are things that we know about that kids nowadays just don’t know of.
“Things are being lost. The context is gone, and they don’t understand how rough life was back then,” she says. “This is a gentle way of showing them and reminding them of how things were.”
Saucier taught elementary special education, junior high school science and math, and high school special education in Missouri public schools from 1976-1981, before joining the Air Force.
“I did that frequently in my military career and since education is such a big part of the museum it’s something that I bring here,” Saucier says.
Most of Saucier’s work, however, is focused on keeping the museum running. She officially works as the museum’s secretary and treasurer, which involves continued upkeep on the museum’s nonprofit 501(c)(3) status and organizing visits.
She says, on average, the museum gets nearly 100 visitors a week and that the museum is a two years ahead of where the Iron Spike Inc. board had expected to be.
The museum promotes itself as veteran-run, and, in fact, Saucer, whose touts a 20-year service that began in 1981 and ended with her retirement in 2002 says veterans and their families are welcome free of charge.
In the museum’s welcome center, visitors are encouraged to take a toy soldier from a basket and gift it to a veteran so that they know they’re “being prayed for.” Saucier says that and providing free admission is the least the museum can do.
She says her time in the Air Force was some of the most memorable years of her life. Her first years in the Air Force consisted of working as a computer programming specialist and later an air intelligence/intelligence applications officer.
The many other positions she held during her service include work as a data automation director at the Atlantic Command Joint Intelligence Center and educating as an assistant professor of aerospace studies at AFROTC Detachment 28, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, Ariz., campus.
She also served as regional director of admissions at AFROTC Detachment 835, University of North Texas, senior U.S. military liaison at one of England’s national intelligence agencies and commander, 22nd Intelligence Squadron, Fort Meade, Md.
Saucier says she’s found a similar passion to her military career in teaching visitors from all over about locomotives. After a year and a half, the museum has had visitors from 42 states and several countries. She says she’s doing more to bring more classes in from local schools.
Along with Saucier’s, there are hundreds of stories in the museum, ranging from a small scenes in a display to a train donated to the museum, passed down through several generations.
“The history aspect is what appeals to me,” Saucier says. “Not a week goes by that we don’t learn some new aspect of the hobby or an aspect of the rail line.”