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History of the Railroad Shops By Kay Leggett

The long soulful railroad whistle could be heard all over town.  For as long as anybody could remember, that sound measured our lives. Folks would stop whatever they were doing to check the accuracy of their watches. Families knew that the 1:00 whistle meant time to start again and the much-anticipated “Four O’clock” held promise that the workday had ended.  The “Voice of McComb” blew every day, Monday through Friday, rain or shine, in zero or 100-degree weather, for dozens of years.  When the shops closed in 1987 and the whistle was silenced, it signaled the end of an era.


Today, however, thanks to the efforts of many forward-thinking people, that whistle has found a new home, not in the machine shop anymore, but just a few yards away at the new McComb Railroad Museum located in the refurbished 1901 depot.  Children and “not-so-young” children can pull its cord to take a step back in time.

 

The golden age of railroading in Southwest Mississippi may well have been lost for all time if it were not for a few determined visionaries.  Winnie Len Howell, a local railroad enthusiast and historian who helped establish the Liberty-White Museum at Percy Quin State Park and Edwin Etheridge, the last Illinois Central Shop Superintendent for McComb, worked for three years to establish the McComb Railroad Museum.  Through their initiative, the townspeople began to realize the need for the museum.   We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for not allowing us to forget our heritage.

 

Etheridge of McComb had worked in the railroad shops since 1942.  When the shops closed in 1987, he saved several hundred historical artifacts hoping that one day the town just might build a museum.  After several false starts to find a suitable location for the museum, the newly renovated depot was chosen.  The restoration of the depot had been completed in 1998 as a Mississippi Department of Transportation Enhancement Project.  Part of the renovated depot currently houses the offices of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce and the Industrial Development Foundation. On the south end of the depot, however, just off the passenger waiting room, the baggage room was converted into the permanent railroad museum. Under the leadership of Howell and Etheridge, the 900 or so artifacts were cataloged and the construction team organized. 

 

The team included many retired railroad personnel, local history and railroad buffs, carpentry students at Southwest Mississippi Community College, the McComb High School art and graphic classes and professional graphic artist, Gary Herring, who all worked together to complete the exhibits. The museum was built entirely by volunteers.  Only the building supplies were purchased.  On June 13, 2003, during the local Iron Horse Festival the museum was dedicated by Mayor Thomas Walman with the mission “to help preserve Southwest Mississippi ’s railroad heritage”. Terry McMahon, President of the Illinois Central Historical Society of Paxton, Illinois attended and was impressed with the utilization of space and quality of the displays.