The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Progress 2014

April 12, 2014

A historic trail from trash to treasure

ENID, Okla. — It all started with a lantern.

When Frank “Watermelon” Campbell kicked off his 42-year career with the railroad, he was given a lantern that would quickly become the piece to set off the eventual opening of the Railroad Museum of Oklahoma.

“It didn’t prove very satisfactory because it would go out on me,” Campbell said, adding railroad officials told him to buy a new lantern and throw the first lantern in the garbage. “Well, I never (threw) it in the garbage. I kept it at home. And that’s what started my railroad collection.”

Since then, Campbell has spent years preserving railroad history and even recently recognized with a Citation of Recognition from the state of Oklahoma for his dedication to the railroad museum and to the community.

Before the eventual opening of the railroad museum, Campbell formed a small museum in a train depot in his backyard.

“I had it crammed full of railroad memorabilia, and I went to railroad shows and on eBay — all different ways to put together all of the things at the railroad museum,” Campbell said.

One day, Campbell decided to share his collection.

He approached the Santa Fe Railroad to request a donation of the Santa Fe Freight Depot in Enid for use as a museum.

The building had been vacant for 25 years, and a considerable amount of work had to be done before the museum could be opened to the public in 1989, Campbell said.

Throughout the past year, $68,000 worth of improvements were made at the facility.

Refurbishment work included constructing a pump car, cleaning the train yard of weeds, putting together a library in the “round top” building, repainting the freight room floor, cleaning all of the carpets throughout the museum, refurbishing the model railroads, cleaning and rearranging showcases and re-painting some of the museum’s cabooses.

“We have the largest railroad museum of this type in the nation,” Campbell said.

Today, there are more than one million pieces of railroad memorabilia in the museum.

“We have the largest collection in the world of railroad dining car china,” he said.

The museum also is home to the smallest train layout in existence, Campbell said, and features HO and N-gauge model railroads.

Other museum features include 12 cabooses from 10 different railroads, 31 pieces of rolling stock, including boxcars and tank cars in the train yard, 3,640 feet of railroad track, a steam locomotive and a diesel locomotive.

The museum runs two excursion trains — made up of cabooses from different railroads — each year. The spring excursion between Enid and Okeene is set for May 3.

As the local chairman for the conductors’ organization union, Campbell was part of training superintendents and other officials on the railroad.

“Me, being the local chairman, they needed to know all about the unions,” he said.

His work with the “bigshots” would pay off later.

“When I was putting the railroad museum together, and they were pulling the cabooses off of the trains, then I could call up those fellas and visit with them and get them to donate a caboose to the museum,” Campbell said. “I had a lot of clout with the different officials from the different railroads, which was a great thing in putting together the railroad museum.”

The museum, located at 702 N. Washington in Enid, is open from 1-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The museum is open by appointment only on Sunday.

Admission is by donation at the volunteer-run facility.

For information, museum officials may be reached at (580) 233-3051.

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Progress 2014
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