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Home > Blog > Exhibit Train Blog, 2011-2012 > Meridian, Miss., February 4 and 5

Meridian, Miss., February 4 and 5

Posted by admin at Feb 29, 2012 03:35 PM |
Developed around a vital rail crossing, Meridian stands as a testament to the ability of the railroads to effectively move people and goods.
Ribbon cutting at MEI
Mayor Barry and the officers of the K-9 Unit
Mick Nussbaum and Mayor Barry smile for us on the Exhibit Train

Todd Stennis, Amtrak Government Affairs;
Cheri Barry, Mayor, Meridian, MS, with scissors;
In the background, Jerome Trahan, Amtrak Marketing;
Mary Perry, City Council, Meridian, MS, with scissors;
Bruce Mullins, Amtrak District Manager, New Orleans

Mayor Barry and the officers of the K-9 Unit

Mick Nussbaum and Mayor Barry smile for us on the Exhibit Train

Todd Stennis, Mayor Barry, Gil Carmichel and Mary Perry on the Exhibit Train
A1970s china display onboard the Exhibit Train
Train #19 at the Meridian, Miss. station

Todd Stennis, Mayor Barry, Gil Carmichel and Mary Perry on the Exhibit Train

1970s china display onboard the Exhibit Train

Train #19 of the Crescent at the Meridian, Miss. station

Established in 1860 at the intersection of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and the Southern Railway of Mississippi, Meridian is a true “railroad town.” Many residents, and their forebears, have worked along the ribbons of steel that crisscross the region. The city has strong ties to Amtrak too: former Mayor John Robert Smith, who was a guiding force behind the building of the modern multi-modal transportation center, served as Chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors in the early 2000s.

It was no surprise then that thousands of visitors turned out to tour the Exhibit Train—it was not only a great opportunity to learn about Amtrak’s history, but the two-day event also provided the backdrop for impromptu gatherings of family and friends. Luckily, the predicted rain stayed away almost long enough to encourage people to come out. To kick off the weekend, Mayor Cheri Barry greeted the crowd, and wielding a very large pair of scissors, snipped a bright red ribbon to officially open the display cars. She was joined by City Council member Mary Perry and Amtrak representatives from the Government Affairs, Marketing, and Transportation departments.

Mayor Barry led the initial group through the train and then stopped to chat with police officers from the Amtrak K-9 unit. Their canine counterparts certainly loved the attention! We were also glad to spot native Mississippian Gil Carmichael among the crowd. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, he served as the head of the Federal Railroad Administration. Carmichael was—and remains—a strong and outspoken advocate for investment in our national network of passenger and freight railroads.

As people moved about the Exhibit Train, many were drawn to the displays of early Amtrak china. Used primarily in the 1970s, the pieces were made by different companies. One pattern produced by the Hall China Company of Ohio is often referred to as “Amtrak National.” The serving pieces—teapots and coffeepots, creamers, and sugar bowls—came in a medium blue color, and they were also noted for their angular handles. Plates and bowls manufactured by the Mayer China Company and then the Homer Laughlin Company have a white base with a similar blue rim. A collection of these plates is set out on a table flanked by mannequins in 1970s fashions, who appear ready for their meal. The serving pieces are found in the next car, positioned at sharp angles to one another to show off and complement their forms.

In the station, visitors stopped by tables set up by the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the National Association of Railroad Passengers, and Mississippi Operation Lifesaver. By the end of Saturday, the Operation Lifesaver table was wiped clean of brochures after hundreds of people had paused to learn more about the best ways in which to safely interact with railroads.

Meridian’s multi-modal transportation center sits across the tracks from the Meridian Railroad Museum, which is run by the Queen and Crescent Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. The organization strives to promote the history of railroading in Meridian and eastern Mississippi, as well as foster the preservation of railroad artifacts. Most of the collection is housed in a former Railway Express Agency building. Museum Director Mick Nussbaum and his wife and mother graciously took time out of their weekend to help us staff the Exhibit Train, and the museum was also open for visitors. Many enjoyed having a look at the extensive model railroad layout maintained by the Meridian Model Railroad Club. In addition to NRHS members, a handful of city employees volunteered their time with the Exhibit Train, including a group of firefighters.

On the track next to the museum sit various vintage passenger cars and cabooses. One of the better known cars is Coach #660, once owned by the Southern/Central of Georgia and painted in its green livery. The car was used by the Southern Railway until 1979 when the company finally turned over the operation of the Southern Crescent to Amtrak (after which it simply became known as the Crescent). Given to the Queen and Crescent Chapter in 1980, #660 remains the pride of the museum fleet. In the fall, the museum hosts the annual Meridian RailFest featuring visiting rolling stock, some of which is provided by Amtrak. Vendors also set up booths to sell railroad-related antiques and collectibles, as well as cars and items needed for model railroading.

It’s said that the railroad never stops—this week we head east to the Sunshine State as winter digs in its heels up north. See you this weekend in Jacksonville!

—PK