Stick 'em Up!

Train enthusiasts to stage ‘The Great Train Robbery’ in July

They will perform during Oldham County Day

LA GRANGE, Ky. (July 2017) – Outlaws from the old west are fixin’ to rob a train in La Grange, Ky., and it won’t be the first time this has happened.
Members of the Ohio Valley Railroad Historical Foundation, based a few blocks from downtown La Grange, have scheduled The Great Train Robbery during Oldham County Day on Saturday, July 15. There will be gunfights in front of a caboose and engine parked outside their rail car museum at the old 1910 L&N train station at 412 E. Main St. that used to serve the town and county.
The group has several antique rail cars in their collection, including an L&N caboose, an original 1924 dining car, an engine named the Flying Duchess, and a flatcar.
The train robbery has taken place three or four times before, according to organization chairman Robert G. Widman Sr., 79. He was one of the driving forces in the start of the Railroad Historical Foundation.

Photo by John Sheckler

Bob Widman poses in front of the train caboose parked outside the Ohio Valley Railroad Historical Foundation’s train museum in La Grange, Ky.

“I got into trains when I was a kid in the 1940s,” said Widman. “My parents gave me an entire upstairs closet. I had Lionel trains from Fisher’s Hobby Shop. When I grew older, I put all my train cars in boxes. I didn’t get them back out until I moved to Henry County, when I put them in display cases.
The group has a huge model train display in the basement of the train station. Widman’s childhood trains are in the viewing cases below the working train sets.
He and other members of the foundation took their love of model trains a step further when they established the rail yard collection.
“Our goal since 2005 is to preserve the history of the railroad, past, present and future,” Widman said. “The 1914 train depot is on lease from Oldham County. It is in the city but is county owned. We started the organization in 2005, came to train station in 2008 and got the museum running in 2011. But we didn’t get the upstairs until 2014.”
The group leases the basement of the building for $1 a year and uses it to hold monthly meetings.
“The entire track outside for rail cars was laid by hand,” Widman says with pride. “CSX supplied the materials. CSX and the city originally laid 40 feet of track on land leased from the railroad. Now there is more than 100 feet.”
The group found grants for water and sewage so they could hook up the dining car and caboose.

Photo by John Sheckler

Part of the train set display is pictured inside the train museum in La Grange, Ky.

“Every one of the train cars was donated and given to the museum,” said Widman. “The dining car is a 1924 original. That type car sells for up to $300,000.” It was donated by Bob and Lynn Jones of Prospect, Ky.
“It had been used as a party car. The city made them move it, so it went to the CSX yard in Charlestown, Ind. Then we got it.”
When it reached the foundation property, two cranes moved the car 30 feet from the main track to the museum tracks.
“CSX gave us plates and spikes from a yard in Carrollton, Ky.,” he added. “We couldn’t have gotten more from them. Our next project is to obtain two box cars.”
The group has performed the train robbery several times. “We do it again in October at the railroad festival days. It used to be a bluegrass festival.”
The group’s biggest problem is that there is a lot going on in town, and it isn’t easy for traffic to get to the rail yard. It is also necessary to block off the parking lot to make room for the performers. However, parking is available in the mini storage next door.
The annual Oldham County Day parade is held at 10 a.m. “Then people are distracted by all kinds of vendors as they make their way to the rail yard,” Widman said.
“We can’t bring people to here from town by horse-drawn carriage because the gunfire scares the horses,” Widman said. “We always get full cooperation from the police and sheriff. They are always here to help.”
There are surprises in store for people who are near the rail cars during the robbery.
“We will load a lot of people in the dining car,” said Widman. “I’ll be in a conductor outfit when the robbers come on to rob the train. Sometimes I get shot, sometimes I don’t. It depends on the situation.”
People in the car don’t know what is going on,” he added. “We don’t tell anybody anything.”
The robbers come through the train and rob the passengers.
“There is one person in the car that knows and won’t hand over the jewelry,” Widman said. “The money going to the robbers becomes a donation. Just about everyone puts in one or two dollars.”

Photo by John Sheckler

This is a look inside the original 1924 dining car, The Flying Duchess.

After the robbery, there is another gunfight outside until all but one of two re-enactors are on the ground.
“The marshals are the ones killing the ones robbing the train,” said Widman.
Another member of the organization, Jack Diehl, acquired a love for trains much the same way as Widman.
“I was just a model railroad collector,” said Diehl. “One of the reasons the museum got going is because two members of our K&I Model Railroad Club wanted to start an organization to build a kit of the Big Emma Steam Engine for its 100th anniversary. You have to make the tooling first, so it takes a long time. We started a fundraiser to get money to build the kit when Bob took over and changed the direction of the club to railroad history.”
The group was able to acquire space in La Grange,” said Diehl. “What better place to show history than a museum? Now we are on the National Register of Historic Sites.”
Diehl has fond memories of his childhood train set. “I was just like any other 6-year-old kid who got a train and eventually had it lost in the garbage,” he said, “I am 84 now and couldn’t replace that train, so as I got older, I said my kids, boy or girl, will get three things – a baseball, a bat and a train.”
Later, his interest in trains was sparked by a group called GAT.
“The Great American Train organization sparked my interest. I got hooked again and was back on trains,” he said. “We started the K&I Model Railroad History Foundation in 2003.”
The group changed names in 2005 to the Ohio Valley Railroad History Foundation and was able to establish a 501c3.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oldham County Day. The train robbery will take place at 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. There will be music when the train is not being robbed.

The organization accepts tax-deductible donations. New members are welcome, and there is no fee or membership. For more information, contact Widman at (502) 930-9430.

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