SUISUN CITY — Exploring and educating on energy and transportation possibilities for the future is the main focus of the Traction Labs exhibit at the Western Railway Museum.
The exhibit opened in November and it features a number of interactive displays that help museum patrons learn about energy generation, consumption and conservation.
Museum executive director Phil Kohlmetz said the exhibit was nearly six years in the making and it went through numerous evolutions before becoming a reality.
“We’re a history museum, and we’ve always talked about the history of electric trains on the West Coast and in California,” Kohlmetz said. “(People ask) ‘Why is history important, and what are you doing to be relevant?’ ”
The answer to that is energy.
“We’re using a lot of it, and that energy is used for transportation, how do people get around, where do they need to go? How do they get there?” Kohlmetz said.
And that’s part of what the exhibit addresses.
“So we’ve got aspects of the lab that are set up to talk about energy and energy issues,” Kohlmetz said. “Aspects that are set up to talk about transportation and transportation issues, and really it comes together with electric railways, which is the thing that we (do).”
The exhibit opens with an introductory video featuring Kohlmetz talking about the issues at hand and how they relate to the museum and everyday life.
While the museum aimed the exhibit at children in grades 3-8, it’s informative for all ages.
Among the interactive parts are a station where patrons can crank a wheel to see how much energy it takes to power simple devices, such as a radio, a tablet computer, a light bulb and a toaster.
“Nobody ever gets the toaster,” Kohlmetz said.
Other displays discuss the various sources of energy – solar, wind, geothermal, coal, natural gas and nuclear – and the percentages we get from each.
Wind energy, which is prominent in Solano County with the turbines in the Montezuma Hills, accounts for just .2 percent of our total energy production, Kohlmetz said.
Patrons can also learn about how the museum’s electric streetcars and their traction motors work.
The crown jewel of the exhibit, though, is a scale model railway set up with two power sources.
Patrons can turn a wheel on each end of the display and produce either wind or solar energy to power one of two scale model streetcars through the elaborate town.
Tung Pham of San Francisco checked out the exhibit with his sons, Ryall, 6, and Declan, 4, Saturday afternoon.
“It’s really well done,” Pham said. “I like that it’s hands-on and it’s pretty informative, too.”
He said his family makes it to the museum two or three times a year, but he didn’t know the Traction Labs exhibit was there.
As the boys worked to power the miniature streetcars, a museum volunteer showed them how to adjust how much power they produced.
“The integration with the train tracks helps, too,” Pham said.
That’s just the reaction the museum was hoping for.
Kohlmetz said he hopes the exhibit helps kick-start the conversation on where our energy will come from in the future.
“We’ve put it off for far too long and the longer we wait, the harder the solutions get and part of the message of the exhibit is . . . there are possible solutions,” he said. “It’s not super, super bleak. Hopefully, people walk away with some sense of optimism.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.