A large railroad crossing sign stands at the rear entrance of the Campus Center Building. To many this may seem out of place, but come by and visit it on a Saturday and a miniature world will come to life.
The George L. Carter Railroad Museum is more than a museum. Featuring a children’s educational center, a library and several functioning railroading models, it is a community of railroading enthusiasts.
Volunteers like Geoff Stunkard operate the museum and each volunteer brings their own perspective and level of expertise.
“I like the fact that we kind of come in here and let the community enjoy it. I don’t really want to have a mausoleum,” Stunkard said.
According to Museum Director Fred Alsop, the museum averages about 100 visitors every Saturday. Many of these visitors are kids who come to the children’s educational center staffed by student workers.
“We have the same kids every week. We get a lot of repeats and we hear a lot of crying when they have to leave,” Alsop said.
While the children learn and play, the parents can work their way into the railroading models. Here, volunteers operate model trains as they run through handcrafted scenes of Appalachia.
The railroad models provide an excellent opportunity to talk about the importance of the railroad to our area. Hearkening back to before Johnson City was a college town, volunteers can talk about Johnson City’s founding as a railroad town.
“The fact that the railroading in town was so important to the overall growth of Johnson City in the time it was being founded is important to us to make sure we represent more than just people running trains,” Stunkard said.
In addition to historical information, the operators are more than willing to share a little of Johnson City folklore, notably the story of Al Capone’s alleged visits to early Johnson City.
“The story has it that Al Capone would come down here. This was kind of his home away from home. Now how apocryphal that was I don’t know,” Strunkard said. “The truth was there were no highways into here; the only was in was the railroad. It was a fairly secluded place… Nobody was going to call the New York Times and say Capone is in town.”
On top of their normal Saturday openings, the museum offers special events and excursions. The next major excursion is to the Big South Fork Railway and the Blue Heron Mine in Stearns, Kentucky, on Oct. 7.
Participants for this excursion will get to ride the former Kentucky and Tennessee Railway. Those interested in participating in the excursion are encouraged to go by the Carter Railroad Museum on Saturday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for more information.