News Column

Museum railroad exhibit stirs memories

August 13, 2014

By Matt Smith, Cleburne Times-Review, Texas

Aug. 13--It's been a busy week for the ghosts of history and memories at the Johnson County Historical Museum, a week that's also seen acquaintances renewed and new friendships forged.

"We've had people in and out and sticking around to visit for hours," Johnson County Historical Commission member Sandy Sims said.

Railroads Remembered has indeed proved one of the museum's most popular exhibits. The program focuses on the history of the Cleburne Santa Fe shops as well as Johnson County and area railroad history.

Admission is free and the museum -- located on the first floor of the Johnson County Courthouse, 2 Main St. in Cleburne -- remains open for extended hours, 10 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. through Friday.

Hundreds of photographs and railroad related memorabilia bring Cleburne and Johnson County's not-so-distant past alive.

The stories behind many of the items fascinate as well. One exhibit recounts the fate two Cleburne Santa Fe Express workers shot from behind as the train approached Cleburne and the fate of the shooter.

A Pullman stool on display, which has been in the family of Godley resident Andy Asberry since 1900, saved the life of Asberry's ancestor, Charles Lynn Asberry, during the Galveston Hurricane of that same year. A connection to the railroad proved less fortunate for an earlier relative of Asberry.

A circa 1913 battery jar, used to generate low-voltage electricity for track signals in those days, was years later recovered from an odd locale. Area resident Kenneth R. "Ken" Gossett loaned the item to the museum for the exhibit. Numerous area railroad enthusiasts and former Santa Fe shop workers have done the same, JCHC member Linda Burt Wallace said.

Cleburne resident Carolyn Cate lent pass keys, Santa Fe calendars and other items to the exhibit.

"She was the last one to walk out the door and turn out the lights when the [Cleburne Santa Fe shops] closed," said Billy Cate, Carolyn's husband.

Cleburne resident Bill Bonham spent Tuesday morning discussing local railroad lore with Wallace and Sims while looking through old newspaper articles, several of which former Times-Review reporter Pete Kendall penned, and perusing old photographs.

"Bill's been a great help today helping us identify several of the men in the old pictures who we didn't know," Wallace said.

Bonham should know.

"I spent six decades railroading," Bonham, 74, said. "I still live on the family farm I was born on out between Cleburne and Keene."

A 1958 Cleburne High School graduate, Bonham worked the Santa Fe shops from 1959 through the late '80s and after for Union Pacific Railroad through the early 2000s.

Bonham also played on the undefeated 1952 Santa Fe Elementary School softball team.

"Otherwise I played baseball in summers," Bonham said. "I started to play football [at CHS], but we had practice until dark and I had to walk home after, which was out by Keene. I decided pretty quick that just wasn't going to work for me."

Bonham thanked Wallace and Sims for organizing the exhibit.

"This is wonderful," Bonham said. "I love it."

He's not alone.

"Almost everyone who's come out has been thrilled," Wallace said. "They all say they'll be back and ask how long it will be here."

Which, it turns out, will be a bit longer.

The catch is, the daily and extended hours conclude on Friday. Museum officials plan to display the items for a couple of months after during regular hours, which are 10 a.m. to noon Wednesdays and Thursdays. Many of the items will have to be returned eventually as they were donated solely for the run of the exhibit.

"I wish we had a railroad museum," Bonham said. "I'd visit every week."

A sales tax increase and accompanying list of facilities approved by Cleburne voters in 2002 calls for just that. When the Cleburne Railroad Museum, the sole remaining project yet undone, will be built remains anyone's guess.

City officials say there's no money in the 4B sales tax fund to build the museum at this time. About half those revenues go toward maintenance and operation costs of the existing facilities while the other half goes toward debt payment on the bonds used to build those facilities.

"I have no idea," Bonham said when asked his take on the city railroad museum situation. "I'm not in charge of that. I'll just be glad to see it when they build it."

Time is off the essence, however, Sims and Wallace said.

"A lot of the comments we've had is that a lot of people have items ready to donate," Sims said. "They're just waiting for a permanent railroad museum to give it to."

The rub, Wallace said, is that the Cleburne and Johnson County railroad workers from the Santa Fe shop days are not getting any younger.

"Some of these people have no kids or family to leave this stuff to," Wallace said. "There's no telling how much of these items and history have already been lost and how much is going to end up sold or thrown away if we don't get a museum soon."


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Source: Cleburne Times-Review (TX)

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