Railroad museum's leader departs - ‘It’s been a great ride’

Donald Tallman retires as first non-rail fan to serve as railroad museum’s executive director

Posted 8/21/19

In the nearly 13 years he spent as executive director of the Colorado Railroad Museum, Donald Tallman gained a deep appreciation for the role that railroads played in the growth and development of …

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Railroad museum's leader departs - ‘It’s been a great ride’

Donald Tallman retires as first non-rail fan to serve as railroad museum’s executive director

Posted

In the nearly 13 years he spent as executive director of the Colorado Railroad Museum, Donald Tallman gained a deep appreciation for the role that railroads played in the growth and development of Colorado and the United States, he said.

“The history of railroading has a lot of stories to tell us,” Tallman said. “The Colorado Railroad Museum is a place where you can step 140 years back in time. We use our collection to tell those stories.”

Tallman is retiring from the museum at the end of August. Replacing him is Paul Hammond of southern California, a lifelong rail fan who has an extensive background of holding leadership roles with railroad and other transportation museums, as well as holding editor positions for locomotive and railway publications.

During Tallman’s time at the railroad museum, its attendance, and thus revenue, nearly doubled, the museum gained bragging rights for being named one of the top 10 paid attractions for the past 12 years by Visit Denver, and was honored with a Tourism Star Award. Amongh his accomplishments, Tallman helped bring the wildly popular Polar Express program to the museum.

“He helped make it more visible and accessible to the public,” said Sharon McGee, one of the museum’s trustees. She added the museum celebrated its 60th anniversary this year. “It’s difficult for any museum to make it that long. But we continue to reach more people.”

Tallman, 63, was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan-Flint, and began his working career as a supervisor at a Buick manufacturing plant.

He later decided he wanted to pursue a different career path, and eventually earned a master’s degree from the University of Chicago Graduate Library School. Tallman worked for the Newberry Library in Chicago for several years before he was hired by an international consulting firm and relocated to San Francisco.

Tallman met his wife Robin in San Francisco when they were employed together in the same office. The two married in 1987 and in 1989, their daughter Danielle was born.

Tallman had become a strategic planner for Wells Fargo by this time, but then embarked on a new endeavor.

“We decided one of us should stay home, and we thought that I would do a good job as a full-time dad,” Tallman said. He stayed home with Danielle for six years, he said, and added during that time, “I had a blast. I absolutely loved it.”

Being a stay-at-home dad gave him an opportunity to lead in a different way than his career had permitted, Tallman said, and pursue his passion for music.

Though he sang through high school and college, Tallman became a professional singer in San Francisco — staff tenor for Saint Mary’s Cathedral and staff singer for Temple Sherith Israel, as well as singing with a professional chamber choir and performing as a soloist for a number of performing arts organizations.

“Music is such a powerful medium,” Tallman said. “You can connect with audiences on so many different levels.”

Tallman continues to sing the National Anthem at local events such as the Jefferson County Good News Breakfast and Buffalo Bill Days, as well as major sporting events such as for the Colorado Rockies baseball games and Denver Nuggets basketball games, and the upcoming Colorado Classic pro cycling bike race.

It was Robin Tallman’s job as the director of finance for a large telecommunications company that brought the two of them to Colorado when her office relocated. The family settled on Green Mountain in Lakewood in 1996.

“We love Colorado,” Robin Tallman said. She retired at the end of last year, and she added that now that they’re both retired, she’s “looking forward to having more adventures, both big and small. Retirement gives you more freedom.”

Donald Tallman expects the two of them will do some travelling, which includes visiting their daughter and son-and-law in Illinois more often, and trips to go hiking and alpine climbing in Colorado’s mountains.

In 1997, Tallman and Michael Shasberger cofound Augustana Arts, a nonprofit with a mission “to create opportunities to inspire and educate through music,” states its website.

Tallman served as the organization’s executive director for 10 years, until a friend told him about the position at the Colorado Railroad Museum.

“It was going to have to be something really special to get me to leave Augustana Arts,” Tallman said.

But he submitted his resume, got an interview, and in October 2006, Tallman became the first non-rail fan to assume the role of executive director of the Colorado Railroad Museum.

Tallman “understands the marriage between railroading and onboard theater,” said Jarrette Ireland, general manager of Rail Events, Inc. Ireland of Durango met Tallman though bringing the Polar Express to the Colorado Railroad Museum. “He’s been a champion for bringing family-oriented, nontraditional railroad events to this museum, which has helped it thrive.”

Al Blount, president of the museum’s board of trustees, agreed.

“He (Tallman) came in at the right time,” Blount said. “We’re preserving Colorado railroad history. Many kids don’t even know what a steam engine is until they visit the museum. We needed somebody who understood business and museums.”

Russ Powers, who has been a volunteer researcher in the railroad museum’s library for 16 years, said Tallman was instrumental in implementing outreach to a younger generation of rail fans.

“He has taken it from being a static museum,” Powers said, “to a place that features exciting and interesting exhibits as well as fun, family events.”

Tallman enjoys being involved in the community and serves on several local boards and commissions — the Budget and Audit Board for the city of Lakewood, the membership and media relations committees for the National Western Stock Show Association, the board for the Golden Visitor’s Center and the board of the Heritage Rail Alliance.

He was inducted into the Jefferson County Hall of Fame in 2018.

About 250 people, ranging from Tallman’s “gym buddies” to representatives of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), attended Tallman’s retirement party on Aug. 14 at the railroad museum.

“One of the most important things is the strength of relationships. It’s all about the people,” Tallman said. “I’ve met and developed relationships with hundreds in the community. It’s been a great ride.”

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