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McComb depot offers free trips back in time.

The long, soulful railroad whistle could be heard all over town. For as long as anybody could remember, that sound measured their lives. Folks would stop whatever they were doing to check the accuracy of their watches. Families knew that the 7 a.m. whistle meant husbands, brothers, fathers, or uncles had begun their day in the railroad shops. 12 p.m. meant lunchtime; wives knew exactly when hungry husbands would rush through their doors. The groaning 1 p.m. 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 everyday, Monday through Friday, rain or shine, in zero- of 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, that whistle has found a new home just a few yards away at the new McComb Railroad Museum, located in the refurbished 1901 depot. Children of all ages can pull its cord to take a step back in time.

The golden age of railroading in Mississippi may well have been lost if it were not for a few determined visionaries. Winnie Len Howell, a local railroad enthusiast and historian, and Edwin Etheridge, the last Illinois Central shop superintendent for McComb, worked for three years to establish the museum. Etheridge had saved several hundred historical artifacts when the shops closed in 1987, hoping that a museum might someday be built. Eventually, the baggage room in the south end of the restored depot was converted into the permanent railroad museum. The work was done entirely by volunteers. Finally, in June 2003, Mayor Thomas Walman dedicated the museum.

Visitors today enter through the original Illinois Central passenger terminal and step through doors designed to resemble the Panama Limited train that for decades served cities from New Orleans to Chicago. Displays reveal how McComb was established as a railroad town, showcase mannequins in period railroad attire, and feature model trains, oral history, and famous photographs. Just outside, a 200-ton steam locomotive, the only aluminum refrigerator car ever built, and a cupola-style caboose offer a life-size taste of railroad history.

The museum, located at 108 N. Railroad Blvd., is free and open to the public from 1-4 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays from April through August. Group tours may be arranged by appointment. For more information; call 601/249-0116 or email mmsa@telepak.net.
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Title Annotation:southern scarpbook
Author:Leggett, Kay Holmes
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 2004
Words:409
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