Railroad Museum open for the summer

By Don Robinet, QMI Agency

Erika Broadbent, coordinator of the Chatham Railroad Museum, poses near a 1940s-era switchboard.

Erika Broadbent, coordinator of the Chatham Railroad Museum, poses near a 1940s-era switchboard.

One of Chatham's most interesting tourist attractions is probably also one of its best-kept secrets.

For 23 years, the Chatham Railroad Museum has operated at the intersection of William and McLean streets out of a 1955 CN baggage car.

Run by the Chatham Railroad Museum Society, a small group of volunteer railroad enthusiasts, the museum doesn't even charge an entry fee, although donations are gratefully accepted.

For Erika Broadbent, a university student who is in her second year as museum coordinator, it's the best job she's had, because of all the knowledgeable train lovers who visit.

Earlier this season, the museum was visited by a couple from England, who passed along their encyclopedic knowledge of that country's train system.

“We get tons of train buffs,” said Broadbent. “They make sure to stop here because they love trains.” She added, “You learn so much from everyone who comes in.”

Museum highlights include telegraph sets, switchboards, signals, a working electric model train set and as well as a small wooden set that young children can play with. Kids can also make a conductor's hat as a craft.

There is a large selection of books about Canadian and local railroad history, and Broadbent said nearly every child who visits the museum likes to try their hand at an early 20th century typewriter. For kids who have been raised on computers, watching the mechanical keys strike a piece of paper and listening to the clacking sound it makes is a treat.

“There's a little bit added every year,” said Broadbent of the displays.

The Chatham Railroad Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. It is closed Sunday and Monday.

Museum representatives sometimes make outreach trips to groups such as day care centres, where the children are given a taste of railroad history, as well as provided with safety messages.

One of the highlights of the summer is the annual William Glassco day, named for the late train enthusiast who was instrumental in establishing the Chatham Railroad Museum. This year's event will take place on Saturday, Aug. 17.