‘Not cheap’: Teens arrested after extensive damage to train cars, museum in Old Town

Three teens were arrested and accused of causing several thousand dollars in damage to the Great Plains Transportation Museum in Old Town after a railroad enthusiast caught the vandalism on a live video feed.

The teens, two 16 and one 17, were arrested near the museum, all on suspicion of felony criminal damage to property and criminal trespassing. Police were called at 7:49 p.m. Saturday.

Museum spokesperson Drew Meek said someone watching the live feed on Virtual Railfan Camera, where railroad enthusiasts can watch live feeds from more than 100 places around the world, saw smoke and started to investigate.

“I was surprised to discover there is quite a bit of interest in doing that,” he said. “There is actually a community that visits on a regular basis and watches the trains go by on that camera.”

But it wasn’t smoke. It was a fire extinguisher the teens sprayed after getting it from a 1950s baggage car they had broken into.

The person was able to zoom in and follow the teens as they vandalized the building and several train cars, including a caboose and locomotive. Meek said only a small number of officials, and not typical subscribers, are able to operate the cameras. The museum got a camera for the subscription last year thanks to a donation.

Meek had a number for the person who viewed the vandalism and called police. It was a 316 area code. But the person did not return a call from The Eagle.

The person, Meek said, saw people using a skateboard to hit the equipment. That’s what Meek said he suspects was used to break windows. The damage included broken windows and damage or broken doors, gaskets and other equipment. The estimated cost of damage is expected to be around $10,000, but it could be much higher.

“Getting railroad hardware for obsolete equipment, equipment that’s not produced anymore, it’s hard to find and often has to be custom fabricated,” he said. “That’s not cheap. This is not anything where we can go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and get a replacement set of hardware or replacement door parts.”

The viewer led police to the teens, who jumped a fence and tried to run before being arrested, Meek said.

“We just hope that they are able to learn from this more than anything,” he said.

Meek said the museum had been vandalized before over its 40-year history, but this has been the worst. He’s unsure how much insurance might cover. He thinks supporters of the museum will help them get through either way.

Those who wish to help the museum recover from the vandalism can call the museum or visit gptm.us/donate.

Meek, who is an unpaid volunteer like all other staff, said the damage is more than just aesthetic, it is a safety concern now that cars are not secure.

“Our jobs as stewards of historic equipment is to try to preserve it and maintain it in its original configuration so our visitors can see it in its original state,” he said.