PLANT CITY – By next week, a train engine and caboose should be a prominent – and permanent – display at the old downtown train depot.
C.J. Bridges Railroad Contractor is expected to install rails in front of the depot on Nov. 11, three days before Brewington’s Towing Service, Wetherington Tractor Service and Sims Crane & Equipment move the train and caboose to the site.
The permanent display is part of an overall plan by the city to encourage downtown tourism, particularly by train buffs.
All four companies are donating their services, and C.J. Bridges is also furnishing the rail at no cost to the city, said City Commissioner Mike Sparkman, who has played a lead role in the project. The engine and caboose, along with other railroad memorbilia, are being donated to the city by R.W. “Bob” Willaford, a Plant City native and retired railroad engineer.
Willaford spent 50 years compiling the collection, which will be displayed at Union Station Depot Welcome Center, 102 N. Palmer St. The city is renaming the depot the Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum.
An appraiser set the collection’s value at more than $200,000, including railroad equipment that will be displayed inside the depot building.
The caboose and engine will compliment a $200,000 train observation deck under construction just south of the 104-year-old depot.
City officials say they hope the observation platform and railroad display will attract thousands of train buffs each year to downtown. The platform is scheduled for completion by early December.