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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Support for railroad museum at old Plant City depot gaining steam

PLANT CITY The Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum is proving to be a big draw for downtown.

The showcase of railroad memorabilia at 102 N. Palmer St. logged 434 visitors in May and 674 visitors in June. The museum also continues to attract visits by schools and daycares from across the region, including a July 10 visit by a Bartow after school care program.

The museum was named for a Plant City native and retired engineer who last year donated an extensive railroad collection that is now on display in and around the old train depot. The exhibit includes a caboose and engine.

City and business leaders say the depot area is evolving into a major tourist draw. Besides the museum, there’s also a train viewing platform on the other side of a set of tracks.

City Commissioner Mike Sparkman said the museum has hosted school and daycare groups from areas such as New Port Richey, Lakeland and Bartow and hope they will see more with the start of the school year next month.

“We’re glad to have them come because that’s what we’re looking for,” he said.

A new nonprofit, the Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum Society, was recently formed to help manage the museum and organize fundraisers. The committee’s first meeting was July 2.

Jerry Lofstrom, owner of the Whistle Stop Cafe, is president of the new organization. He said the society will help develop and promote the museum.

Sparkman said the nonprofit hopes to increase educational opportunities.

“Probably 99.9 percent have never seen a caboose on the inside so they probably ought to get a real thrill out of doing that,” he said.

Train viewing clubs are particularly interested in visiting Plant City because the tracks next to the museum form what’s known as a double diamond, where two main lines intersect north, south, east and west. Sparkman said there are few to be found in the country and it is the only double diamond in the Southeast.

“There is quite a following and enthusiasm for the railroad,” Sparkman said concerning the number of visitors the museum has seen since its establishment in late 2013. “We’re going in the right direction for sure.”

The railroad museum is open noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Closing hours are extended to 8 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays monthly during the Plant City Bike Fest and Strawberry Classic Car Show.

The museum is closed Sundays.

For more information or to schedule appointments or tours call (813) 719-6989.

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