Train enthusiasts celebrate opening of model railroad

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With a couple of good pushes on a green button 4-year-old Junior Joslin, a little boy who just loves trains, started the Mineola Model Train exhibit Saturday afternoon at the Mineola Depot on Front Street.

The starting of the model train culminated the celebrating that included speeches by politicians and dignitaries.

The model train was designed, crafted and produced by Russell Higginbotham, who brought examples of his work to the Mineola City Council in November, and Gail Reese of Red River Models of Tyler. The model, a project of the Landmark Commission with support from the Iron Horse Square Committee, is 90 percent complete with many of Mineola’s well-known landmarks displayed along the little rails.

It will be open to the public seven days a week around the times of the train arriving at the depot, around 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The project was made possible by a $35,000 grant from the Meredith Foundation. Chairperson Lou Wagner, flanked by other foundation members, cut the ceremonial ribbon as Mineola High School Junior Historians Cole McKinney, Presley Harris and Austin Witt dropped the curtain unveiling the exhibit room. 

The model train depicts Mineola’s railroad history from the 1930s, and is located in the expanded museum area of the depot. Folks were situated in front of, behind and around displays as Mineola City Administrator Mercy Rushing noted it being awkward but, “We couldn’t do this anywhere else but here.”

“It’s important for us to celebrate the important things being done in Mineola, not so much by the city, but by the volunteers,” she said. “This is a volunteer-driven project, which makes it that much more special. It is a major part of Mineola’s history and legacy.”

Mayor Kevin White noted the importance of the railroad in his own family and the town. “On the markup board over there you’ll see my father’s name as you look across there. You’ll see a lot of other gentlemen’s names in this room, too, or maybe their parents.”

“Before the days of pagers and beepers, the yardmaster out there knew the phone number to the concession stand at the ballpark and press box at the football game because he knew he could call there when everybody was marked up… to go catch their train,” the mayor said.

Rushing noted the Meredith Foundation was “one of our biggest supporters and (has) always been anytime it has to do with quality of life, preserving history for our future generation and this city is so unique and so blessed to have a group called the Meredith Foundation.”

Landmark Commission Chairman Jim Phillips, also one of Mineola’s main local historians, noted that the project couldn’t have been done without the help of Lou Mallory and Wayne Collins and others who helped preserve the town’s history. Both of Phillips’ grandfathers were engineers for the T&P. He noted that Andrew Epps and Kaysey White researched the railroad history.

Sue Jones, a member of the Iron Horse Square Committee and Ward 1 city council person, explained the plans for the Iron Horse Square Park. Meredith Foundation Chairman Wagner spoke of growing up in Mineola and its relationship with the railroad and Joyce Williams explained the opportunities to help by buying merchandise or donating for fence portions, as well as volunteering. State Representative Cole Hefner said that the project is not only important for its economic development potential, but as a remembrance of the town’s history. The Landmark Commission and Iron Horse Square Committee members were also recognized and Rafael and EmmyLou Espinoza played railroad music on the porch of the depot after the ceremony.

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