Erie Railroad east yard to come alive again at historical museum

Huntington County Historical Museum Director Pat Bergdall poses with part of the Erie Railroad display currently housed at the museum. The historical society plans to build a replica of the east railroad yards and parts of Huntington that surrounded it.
Huntington County Historical Museum Director Pat Bergdall poses with part of the Erie Railroad display currently housed at the museum. The historical society plans to build a replica of the east railroad yards and parts of Huntington that surrounded it. Photo by Andre B. Laird.

Originally published March 8, 2010.

Huntington will soon journey back in time to the days of the Erie Railroad and all the historic landmarks that marked Huntington as a vibrant railroad community.

The Huntington County Historical Society is embarking on a project to recreate the Erie Railroad east railroad yards on an "H0" scale.

Board member Gib Young says the historical society is trying to accomplish something that a lot of other museums already have in place.

"Most museums that have railroad displays usually have a diorama," Young states. "We intend to create a working display using period-specific train sets and other railroad memorabilia."

Young adds that the display will feature many of the once iconic buildings that defined the town of Huntington from the late 1930s to early 1950s.

"The old tower, depot, Caswell-Runyan factory and Majestic plant will all be a part of the display," he states. "The working display will be approximately 16 feet long and six feet wide."

Young says the railroad was one of the symbols of Huntington's strong culture.

"There was a strong sense of community back then, even more so than we have today," he states. "Trains have a sense of power, prosperity and hard work and back then Huntington was alive with a deeper sense of purpose."

According to the book "Huntington County, Indiana: History & Families 1834-1993," published by Turner Publishing Company, the Erie Railroad came to Huntington in 1907.

Before the popularity of the automobile, the railroad was the fastest way to transport not only passengers but equipment as well. World War II equipment was transported across the country in a shorter time thanks to freight trains.

The arrival of the Erie in Huntington sparked a bustling economy and, by 1920, an estimated 13 percent of Huntington's male population worked for the Erie Railroad.

Young, a train enthusiast himself, says that he still runs into residents who fondly remember the way Huntington was.

"I think of all the surrounding communities, Huntington was one of the ones hit the hardest after the railroad discontinued passenger service," Young states. "It impacted us on an economic, social and physiological level."

To help with the project, Young says a task force has been created to tackle various aspects.

The railroad yard layout and construction will be headed by Leroy Rinehart, who is currently in the process of building the table with a Plexi-glass enclosure.

"We hope to outfit the system with a timer so people can see the trains run and make various stops," Young says. "We want it to be an interactive experience for all, especially children."

Other volunteers are currently gathering information about the east yard, including photos. The group is also collecting rolling stock, rail cars and engines (H0 scale), railroad track and buildings.

"We are also accepting any donations of memorabilia, H0 scale-sized buildings, small-scale automobiles from the late 1940s and pictures of Huntington, from the '30s through '50s," states Young. "Also, what we are always on the lookout for is stories."

Young says that the society and museum are interested in stories residents may have about the Erie back in its heyday. They hope to compile the stories and make them a part of the display.

"We want these stories, not just for the train exhibit, but for the historical value as well," he says. "These stories are tiny glimpses into the rich and vibrant past that Huntington once had. They need to be captured and compiled so we can pass them on to others, who will in turn do the same."

After the exhibit is up and running, Young says he hopes that area schools will use it as another learning tool to teach their students about vital parts of Huntington's history.

"The overall goal of the exhibit is to preserve our history and present it in such a way that it will be interesting and enjoyed by children and adults alike," states Young.

For more information on the project or to make a donation, contact Young at 356-1000; Lowell Richardson at 786-3699; or Pat Bergdall at 356-7264.