New lease allows La Grange
Railroad Museum to expand
Railroad group takes over space
formerly used by chamber
LA GRANGE, Ky. – Railroad enthusiast Bob Widman is about to see his dream come to fruition. For the last three years, he has worked diligently at securing a home for an important part of La Grange, Ky.’s heritage.
Widman, a member of the Ohio Valley Railroad Historical Foundation, said plans are “moving forward” for the establishment of the La Grange Railroad Museum.
The museum is located in the Old Depot that formerly housed the Oldham County Chamber and Economic Development offices at 412 E. Main St.
Bob and Lynn Jones of Prospect, Ky., bought, renovated and in 2013 donated this 1929 railroad dining
car to the city of La Grange for
display at its Railroad Museum.
The foundation recently signed a five-year lease agreement with Oldham County Fiscal Court to enable them to use the entire facility for a museum. Previously, the foundation had only used the basement, which didn’t provide enough space for all of the memorabilia they want to display.
Since 2011, we’ve come a long way in a short time. We’re going to keep moving forward.”
Oldham County Judge-Executive David Voegele said the foundation “has made good progress over the last several years. The idea is coming together and it is beginning to be turned into a museum.”
Voegele continued by saying that it “pleased Fiscal Court to give them the opportunity to use it as a museum.” He said he hopes the establishment of a museum will generate revenue for the foundation and help with its upkeep. The foundation is responsible for interior upkeep and utility expenses, while Fiscal Court will take care of major and exterior upkeep.
Widman said the foundation has plenty of items to showcase in the additional space. “We have an $85,000 H-O train layout that was donated,” said Widman. Until now, there was no space to display it.
The layout was donated by Dr. Roberto Penne, who had it in his basement, said Widman. Although it’s not operational yet, Widman hopes it soon will be.
“We had to take it apart in three by five sections to remove it from his basement, and then it was in storage for a year,” he said.
Each room of the museum will be filled with display cases, housing a variety of railroad mementos. Members of the foundation have been lucky in getting individuals to donate or loan rare items that will be of interest to all ages.
On display will be a 110-year-old wooden steam engine that the donor’s grandfather, an L&N employee, built. A cast-iron steam engine was also donated. “It burns coal and actually runs,” Widman said.
The interior of the building will not be remodeled at this time, he said. “We will leave it as it is for now.”
The back room of the building will contain a gift shop selling train sets, railroad cars, track, accessories, train memorabilia and gifts. “Once we’re organized, we hope to be open six days a week,” said Widman.
In the past, Widman has written grants for the non-profit foundation. The group is currently “working on numerous grants.”
Becky Zocklin, with Oldham County Fiscal Court, has been working with Widman recently on trying to acquire grants, he said. “We’ve gotten four or five in the past year to support us and help us get on our way.” Grants have covered the cost of heating, air conditioning and security cameras that have been placed inside and outside.
Widman said foundation members hope to have both floors of the museum open to the public by the first of the new year. Recent donations include 32 railroad ties to extend the track to the end of the property. “We already had the rails and spikes donated by CSX,” he said.
Widman said he is excited that the foundation is “going to get a boxcar from a gentleman in Indiana.” This will complement the two existing railroad cars and caboose on the property.
The exterior of these cars was painted by the La Grange Baptist Church youth group. Porter Paint donated the paint, but the lowest bid to paint the cars came in at $27,000. That’s when the youth group stepped in to help by painting the cars in L&N blue and red.
“They look so much better,” said Widman. “We will add lettering to them later.”
Former plans had called for converting a 1929, 85-foot dining car into a restaurant. This plan has been nixed because, “too many people want to tour it,” he said.
Ideas for the caboose include turning it into a hobby shop or converting it for sleepovers, along with the boxcar. “By spring or earlier, we hope to have water and electric to the cars.”
This additional space brings with it lots of opportunities for the museum. Widman said he hopes to see more activity from visitors. He said people have visited from as far away as China.
“We’re really making changes,” he said.
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