One man’s lifelong passion for railroads is benefiting the Louisiana Area Historical Museum. The facility at 304 Georgia Street recently added to its collection a large sign from the former Louisiana railroad depot at the riverfront. It was a gift from Archie Hayden, a 71-year-old retired brakeman and conductor who spent 40 years with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and later the Burlington Northern.
“I collect railroad memorabilia,” Hayden said. “I’m just enthused about railroad history.”
“We very much appreciate Archie thinking of the museum as a permanent home for the Louisiana depot sign,” said Judy Schmidt, museum board president. “Dozens of photos from the 1950s, donated by Ed Pennington, have provided images of the trains and the depot and many other areas in Louisiana. Along with these pictures of the zephyrs at the station, the sign reminds us of a time when passenger trains were an integral part of Louisiana travel.”
The 10-foot-long wooden placard features white letters that spell out “Louisiana.” It hung either on the north or south side of the depot. Hayden said it was built around 1900 to replace the 1879 structure, which was converted to a freight house. The station served passenger trains until the 1960s and freights until the late 1980s.
Hayden recalls that Jim Ward was one of the station agents, and that Stark Brothers Nurseries and Hercules sent out freight.
Hayden was sick the day the relic came down when the building was demolished following the Flood of 1993. Co-workers gave it to Hayden, who stored it in an 1884 caboose in the backyard of his Hannibal home.
“It doesn’t do anybody any good if it can’t be seen,” he said. “Stuck in my caboose, the only thing it gets is dust. It serves a better purpose when people get to see it and touch it.”
The marker likely was an original made for the depot, but was repainted over the years. It saw thousands of people arrive and depart over the decades, including the last passenger train on April 7, 1967.
Though he has lots of items in his collection, Hayden misses the camaraderie he enjoyed while working the main line between Burlington and St. Louis or the branch between Old Monroe and Mexico.
“How do you put it in words?” he asked. “Romance? That may be the wrong word. But you don’t ever see a caboose anymore. All you see now is that red light blinking.”
By the way, trivia buffs, the retired conductor says that light on the back of trains is a FRED – Federal Rear End Device.”
The sign likely will be hung along the top wall of the museum’s Hercules room. The facility opens for the season on Memorial Day Weekend.
Cutlines for photos:
Louisiana Area Historical Museum President Judy Schmidt with a sign that once was part of the old railroad depot along the riverfront. The recently-donated placard will be among the many items on display when the museum opens for the season on Memorial Day weekend.
Passengers disembark from the Mark Twain Zephyr at the Louisiana depot on a winter day sometime in the 1950s. The Mark Twain was no longer part of the timetable by May 1958 For years, the retired train was displayed in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Note the "Louisiana" sign on the depot.