Railroad Museum celebrates 20 years, opens Airline Rail ride
By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Willimantic - posted Wed., Sep. 7, 2011
The 20th anniversary celebration and community appreciation event at the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum attracted a record number of visitors on Sept. 3. Whether they were drawn by the inaugural trip of the Airline Rail ride, the line-up of local entertainment, the Texas barbecue provided by Fred’s Brickhouse Pizza, or a combination of elements, the important thing is that the visitors came. “Look at this crowd,” said event organizer Bruce John. “This is just great.”
The event was the idea of John and Fred’s Brickhouse Pizza owner Fred St. Clair. “We wanted to do something for them to help highlight the museum and raise funds,” said John. John lined up five local bands to provide entertainment throughout the afternoon: Seldom Heard, Bruce John and the Bandaleros, Nanette Addesso and Porkchop, The Macha Brothers and The Long River Band. Fred’s provided Texas barbecue. And the museum readied a project that has been years in the planning - a 1-mile trip along a portion of the old Airline Rail, taking passengers from the museum grounds to just before Bridge Street in downtown Willimantic.
“It was close, but we got it done,” said Ray Axelrod, the museum’s representative to the National Railway Historical Society. The museum hopes to make the ride a permanent offering in the future, but it was especially important to be able to offer it during the event. “We’re celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the museum and the chapter’s founding,” said Axelrod, “but this is also a thank you to the community. The community has been very supportive of us.”
Other offerings during the event included a display of some antique automobiles, courtesy of the Four Seasons Model T Association. Visitors could take a short ride on the museum’s railway push-car. The Willimantic Fire Department was offering safety demonstrations, and the museum was demonstrating its newly-dedicated Gallows Signal. Another volunteer demonstrated blacksmithing techniques.
“It’s appropriate to have a blacksmith here, because the railroads would have had blacksmiths on staff to do repairs and make tools as needed,” said Axelrod.
The Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum is open through October, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Visit the website www.cteastrrmuseum.org for more information.