The 19th annual Railroadiana Show and Sale was held Saturday at the Arkansas Railroad Museum. An assortment of railroad memorabilia filled the approximately 70,000 square feet of floor space, and the family-friendly event attracted train enthusiasts from near and far.
Elizabeth Gaines, a volunteer and one of many facilitators for the event, said the day was “all about trains and having fun.
“It’s just a bunch of men being little boys,” Gaines said.
Attractions for the day included model trains with track accessories, modular layouts by railroad clubs, a miniature circus, clothing items, books, door prizes, and real locomotives to explore—including the famous Cotton Belt Steam Locomotive No. 819 that was built in Pine Bluff.
Robert McClanahan — who was assistant superintendent of the railroad when a small group of businessmen got the idea to restore the locomotive — and a close friend and former railroad co-worker, Bob Abbott, fondly remembered the project.
“At first, all they planned to do was restore it cosmetically,” McClanahan said of the once forsaken locomotive. “But then they wanted to put the steam back in it.”
McClanahan, who began his railroad career during World War II, said he was all in favor of the work, which he said took about two and a half years to finish.
“They spent a lot of money rebuilding the 819,” Abbott said. “The railroad had a shop over there and they borrowed tools and equipment and a lot of stuff to work on the 819.”
Abbott insists the project would not have been as successful without Clanahan, who retired in 1988.
“Even after he retired he was still the one in charge of the 819.” Abbott said.
After the 819 got its steam back, McClanahan said, the locomotive did an annual excursion that was open to the public.
“You should have seen the people,” Abbott said. “The streets were just loaded with people to watch that train go by. It was unbelievable.”
McClanahan said the 819’s last trip was to Tyler, Texas, in 1993.
“Trains are nostalgic,” Bill Bertch said about people’s fascination with trains. Bertch is a first-time vendor at Railroadiana and owner of a hobby shop in Ashville, Ala.
A former railroad man, Bertch said his family has been captivated with trains for four generations. His great-grandfather was a section foreman, his grandfather an engineer; his father a train dispatcher and he was a switch tour operator before retiring.
“There was a time when that was the only way to travel,” Bertch said. “Back then everybody had a Lionel train, or knew someone who did. Of course that was way before the fancy computer games.”
Bertch’s collectables consisted of model locomotives, locks and kerosene lanterns that were used by the railroad crews for signaling.
Explaining how the lanterns were used he said, “The white globes were for high-balling (signaling the train to go); the yellow globes for caution, the blue signaled the train to pick up an order along the route and the red lantern signaled stop.”
Bertch said his lanterns were between 40 and 75 years old.
Shawn Caleb took his position representing the younger generation of train lovers at one of the model train station displays. The 12-year-old from Russellville said coming to the railroad museum is one of his favorite things to do. In fact, he has been around so much, according to his father, that he is trusted to oversee the display without supervision.
“I’ve been doing this for three years now,” Shawn said as he attentively arranged and dusted the display.” I don’t know… I just love it.”
The Arkansas Railroad Museum is operated by the Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society Inc. For more information, call 870-535-8819.