COVID-19 has taken the steam out of the McComb Railroad Depot Museum’s activities for 2020, but tours are still taking place and enthusiastic support for the attraction is staying on track.
“We rely on our public and we rely on our events,” the museum’s interim director Ralph Price told the McComb Exchange Club last week. “We had to make a difficult decision to cancel all of our events. The uncertainty surrounding all of these spikes in the pandemic has made it impossible to plan.”
Price noted that most of the museum’s volunteers are retirees and may be more at risk of catching the virus.
“We felt for their protection and for the protection of our patrons we had to make that decision,” he said.
The museum is still open from noon to 4 p.m. each day except Sunday, but visitors are limited to five at a time.
“We almost had 10,000 visitors the year before last,” Price said. “I’m in the process of producing virtual tours of the inside of our cars.”
Price produced a 20-minute video featuring the oral histories of former railroad workers and a primer on McComb’s railroad history narrated by television personality Walt Grayson.
Visitors can tour refurbished railroad cars at the train display, including an 1883 executive office car and postal car that is said to be one of only three in existence.
“A lot of people love the caboose, too,” Price said.
His connection to the museum is the same as others who work to keep it going — deep personal ties to the industry. While Price himself never worked on the railroad, generations of his family did.
Without the railroad, McComb wouldn’t exist, he said, calling it “an industry that literally founded the town and not the other way around.”
Museum board members include president Bruce Mullins, vice president Charlie McCarty, secretary Wanda Bullock, treasurer Tonya Hooks and Denver Mullican, Raymond Kyzar, Gene Hutchinson and Bill Moak. Sammy Clark and Jerry Stubbs are volunteers and Mary Woods is the museum’s hostess.
“We’re blessed to have a great volunteer staff,” Price said.
Just as important are the “friends of the museum” who can support it with memberships of $40 for individuals, $55 for families and $65 for businesses.
“We do have about 150 paying members this year,” Price said.
The museum also has a brick memorials for former railroad workers, with small bricks selling for $50 and large bricks selling for $100.
Price took over as director for Butch Williams, a railroad retiree who was instrumental in renovating many of the historic railroad cars on display and the construction of a playground.
“He has been instrumental in the painting of three of our cars,” Price said. “We’ve had all of our cars done through volunteer work. “He’s just done an outstanding job.”
Winnie Len Howell, who founded the museum along with former railroad car shop supervisor Edwin Etheridge, is “still involved but she is director emeritus,” Price said.
Price said he receives feedback from people from all over the country,holding up a child’s letter from Montana and a vintage post card from McComb that was delivered to a family in Idaho years ago.
“Every week I get things in and it’s just amazing to me what fans of railroads these people are,” he said. “I think what were really doing is we’re telling a unique story.”