The Heart of Dixie Railroad Club
Half a century ago a group of Birmingham area railfans organized a chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society (NRHS) called the Heart of Dixie Railroad Club. Their goal was to preserve the sights, sounds, and artifacts of railroading for future generations. Fifty years later the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum is still carrying out that mission at its museum location in Calera, Alabama.
In November of 1962, an exciting event for railroad enthusiasts was taking place in Birmingham. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N) had restored the famed Civil War locomotive The General to operation and was touring the L&N system with the engine as a public relations tool. The General’s visit to the Magic City brought together area railfans, and the idea of forming a Birmingham chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society was born. The first meeting was held in November at the Transportation Building on 1st Avenue North with thirty members present. Over the next several months members began the work of organizing their new chapter, which would be called The Heart of Dixie Railroad Club. An application for a charter was submitted to the NRHS and officers were selected. Members quickly got to work organizing meetings and railroad-themed outings.
In addition to special events, the Club enjoyed regular monthly meetings where the members could get together to discuss chapter business and enjoy a railroad-themed presentation. Many of the early meetings were held in the Alabama Power Company’s headquarters auditorium, or in the assembly room of the Transportation Building, or at Handley Memorial Presbyterian Church, which was pastored by the father of David P. Morgan, the well-known editor of Trains Magazine. Chapter officers for the first year were Elliot Eggleston, President, Don Christie, Vice- President, and Charlie Hudson, Secretary & Treasurer.
The Original Railroad Park
The Heart of Dixie Railroad Club quickly went to work to assemble a collection of railroad equipment for preservation and display. The first item received was wooden caboose No. 5368 donated by the Seaboard Air Line Railway. The first steam locomotive was 2-8-0 No. 38, donated by the Woodward Iron Company. The Chapter had to quickly get to work securing a location to store the cars and locomotives they were to acquire. The Heart of Dixie was fortunate when the St. Louis ~ San Francisco Railway (Frisco) allowed the Club to lease for $7.50 per month an unused team track located behind the Frisco freight house at Powell Avenue and 18th Street South. You may now know this location as now "Railroad Park". The club was able to restore several pieces of equipment in order to participate in the Southern Railway steam program. Heart of Dixie equipment was pulled behind locomotives such as SOU 4501, SOU 630, N&W 1218, N&W 611 and several last operating mainline steam locomotives. The main source of revenue for museum restorations were from operating steam excursions throughout Alabama.
A Good Move
Birmingham was a good home for the Heart of Dixie Railroad Club though its location in the center of the city became problematic. Vandalism was taking a toll on the club's collection. Several pieces of equipment were destroyed by fire and vandalism. The club decided it was time to find a new location that the museum would own and could build facilities to host a museum. The club decided to make Calera, Alabama its home and incorporated into the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum, Inc. The museum purchased a 10 mile stretch of the former Alabama Mineral Railroad's roadbed (which was part of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad or L&N.) from Calera, Alabama to Shelby, Alabama. Shelby, Alabama is the site of the Shelby Iron Works that operated during the War Between The States. At the time of purchase, there was only one mile of track still existing between Calera and Hwy 301 in Shelby County. The museum has since laid another 5 miles of track to hwy 86 in Shelby County known as Springs Junction. The museum acquired and moved two historic depots to Calera. The Wilton Depot from Wilton, Alabama now serves as the museum's depot museum. The Woodlawn Freight Depot from the Birmingham area of Woodlawn, Alabama was relocated to the museum and now houses the Boone Library. Improvements over the years also include yard tracks to house the museum's rolling stock. A shop building for maintenance and restoration work. A visitor's center to house the museum offices, gift shop, and restrooms. The former Birmingham Zoo park train was relocated to the museum for a 1/2 mile ride through the woods. With the new site and infrastructure in place, restorations of museum rolling stock are taking higher priority. In 2011 the museum painted and restored the Chicago & Northwestern Bilevel coach. In 2013, work began restoring the Long Island Commuter Coach with full restoration completed in 2013. We have many more projects to come!
See You At The Museum!
We Invite you to come visit us at the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum to see our hard work! Take a ride on the Calera & Shelby Railroad! Our museum trains are operated by 100% volunteer effort. Many of our exhibits, displays, and restorations in our depot museum are completed with volunteer effort. If you would like to help further the museum's work, please consider donating to the museum or volunteering to help out!