Saturday’s 18th annual Railroadiana Show and Sale at the Arkansas Railroad Museum in Pine Bluff was a record-setting affair.
“We had record attendance and a record number of vendors,” said Bill McCaskill, vice president of the Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society, which sponsors the event. “We’ve had people from everywhere, in- and out-of-state. One man said he drove seven hours to be here. Our food caterer, Woodshed Barbecue, has been wonderful. And the Pine Bluff Amateur Radio Club has had its best day in years at the show, with 68 contacts from Canada to Mexico.”
“Some of our out-of-town attendees will wind up spending two or three nights at motels here, eating at local restaurants and spending money at our show and in local stores,” he added. “This has been a great show with an economic boost for us as well as the city.”
Alderman Steven Mays was among the show’s attendees.
“This is just plain awesome,” he said. “I had been to an earlier Railroadiana and I enjoyed it, but it’s so much bigger now than it was then. This is the only railroad museum in the state, and it’s fascinating, interesting and positive for the whole family. This museum and this event provide educational opportunities and are something this city needs to build on in promoting ourselves.
“I think the Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society and the museum deserve a lot of credit for the healthy impact they’ve had on our tourism and how they’ve made such a difference in helping us to preserve our history,” he said.
Eighteen-year-old Garrett Howard — a model railroader — has brought his grandparents, Bill and Pam Fight, to the past three shows. The Fort Smith residents “love coming to Pine Bluff and visiting the railroad museum,” said Bill Fight.
“Trains have been a part of his life since he was in his early childhood,” Fight said of his grandson. “He knows so much about the trains and a lot of what’s he’s learned he’s picked up right here. We’ve been to several other train shows, including a couple in Chattanooga, Tenn., but Pine Bluff’s is the biggest and best that we’ve seen.
“If we lived close enough, Garrett would be a full-time volunteer in the museum here,” he laughed. “He loves this place.”
Howard said his favorite museum piece is Steam Locomotive No. 819. “He knows that engine from front to back,” said Pam Fight.
Siblings Brendan and Caylin Baser of Stuttgart were captivated by the sights and sounds as they toured the facility and checked out vendors’ offerings.
“I like pretty much everything here,” said 9-year-old Brendan. “The horns and bells are awesome.”
“Going into the trains is fun,” said Caylin, his 7-year-old sister. “The caboose and the Union Pacific engine are the best.”
Their parents, Andy and Becky Baser, said they have taken the children to Railroadiana each year since Brendan developed an interest in trains as a toddler. “It’s something we can do together and we all enjoy it,” said Becky Baser.
Partnering vendors Bud Hopkins, 77, and David Garner, 39, both of Jacksonville, said their love of railroading initiated their friendship.
Hopkins said Garner “is like a son to me” and Garner’s four children “are just as dear to me as my own kids.”
“This is a good time,” 8-year-old Coleman Garner said as his 4-year-old brother, Logan Garner, chattered in an effort to gain attention. “We get to see trains and buy a lot of stuff.”
Laura Garner, 9, bases her affection for trains on “my daddy,” who “collects stuff.” Their 11-year-old sister, Riley Garner, said she likes “seeing engines.”
Hopkins is such a devotee of model railroading that he’s had to place a 16’x32’ building adjacent to his residence to house his collection. His wife gave her blessing to the addition as his accumulation eventually outgrew available space in their house.
A child of the Great Depression, Hopkins grew up “along a Cotton Belt track” near Texarkana. He adored trains, but his family was too poor to afford the luxury of a model train for him.
“My mama told me to keep on believing and someday I would be able to have that train set I wanted so much,” he shared. “I wish she was here now and could see what I’ve put together. I know it would make her happy for me and she would like it, too.”