Historical Train Exhibit

Retired teacher Ron Cady of Alpena currently is sharing his passion for trains with the public via a new exhibit at the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan.

This new Historical Train Exhibit showcases many photographs and artifacts regarding the history of trains in Northeast Michigan. Cady’s items are augmented by others on loan from collector David Moore as well as some railroad lanterns and other pieces from the museum’s collections. Several other local aficionados also lent items for display purposes.

“We’ve had school groups come through who have really liked the exhibit,” said Facilities and Exhibits Manager Randy Shultz. “Ron also has a lecture coming up in March that should be quite interesting. He has a passion for the historical aspect of trains.”

An intriguing series of photos depicting the old Alpena Depot in flames when it burned in 1994 is included in the exhibit as is an original painting of the depot Cady commissioned from artist Mike Delany. Attention also is given to the Metz fire of 1908 when the town caught fire and people hopped on a nearby train hoping to escape the flames only to perish because the train car they had sought shelter in also burned. Thirteen people lost their lives on that train.

“The exhibit gives a history of railroads and milestones,” Shultz said. “It looks at how they started. Before the railroad, people pretty much limited their travel to within a 25-mile radius of their home. After the railroads came, they were able to travel much further.”

Other items featured are an original 1887 charter of the Grand Lodge of Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen and a 1930 timetable of the line to Alpena that was operated by the Boyne City, Gaylord and Alpena Railroad Co. There are assorted vintage railroad passes, numerous model train cars and a Detroit & Mackinaw conductor’s uniform manufactured in 1939 and last worn by Carl Koperwas on special excursions in the early 1980s.

Moore loaned a one-man velocipede, which was a wooden contraption that set on the railroad tracks and was used by workmen to navigate when checking track or signals. The velocipede required a hand-pumping action to move it forward or backward. Moore also provided a train air horn and several train-related signs, while John Ryan loaned a railroad signal.

Cady is slated to give a digital presentation on March 11 entitled “Alpena and its Railroad Heritage.” Focus of the program will be how railroads have developed and served Alpena since the 1880s to the present.

The Historical Train Exhibit will be at the Besser Museum through April 12.