BRAILEY - In Brailey, a blink-and-you-miss-it crossroads community, the old railroad depot is back on track.
Built in 1903 to serve the Wabash Cannonball, the depot bustled for years. Thousands of passengers passed through the doors. Cattle, unloaded from train cars, grazed in grassy areas near the building. Workers stacked crates and barrels to the rafters in the large freight room.
About 1930, the railroad abandoned the depot. Jim Cole, the longtime station master, purchased the building after it was declared to be "surplus." Mr. Cole, who lived just 1/8-of-a-mile from the depot's original site along the railroad tracks, also purchased the double-stalled outhouse and the coal shed.
With mules and timber rollers, the buildings were moved to his property. A witness who watched the big move recalled that the depot didn't make the trip in one day. The building spent the night in the middle of the road, according to information obtained by the current owners, James and Jean Wagoner.
The Wagoners bought the depot and the outbuildings two years ago. The station master's home was purchased by their daughter and son-in-law Joni and Aaron Kelley. All of the buildings are along Fulton County Road 3, 1 1/4-mile south of Airport Highway.
"My husband wanted to own the depot since he was a kid," said Mrs. Wagoner. They both grew up in the Brailey area. Standing in the renovated depot, she says with a smile that today they "live on the other side of the tracks" in Brailey.
They were pleased with the purchase of the depot, but Mrs. Wagoner admits that it has taken many long hours of work - as well as 35 gallons of solid stain - to restore the building. "There was a lot of scraping and painting," she said.
Meantime, Mrs. Kelley and her husband renovated the station master's home. The two couples swapped ideas and shared how-to tips during the projects.
The buildings were bought from the Bennett family, relatives of Mr. Cole, the station master. Mr. Wagoner, it turns out, is related to the Bennetts, which means that the depot has been in the same family since the 1930s.
The depot, open to the public by appointment, has been the scene of several special events since its restoration. An art show will be held here this week. This fall the Wagoners' son Jeff will get married in the depot.
"This is home," said Mrs. Wagoner.
Many people have scrawled their names on the wooden walls of the waiting room, as well as those in the freight room: C.W. Stadler, 6-5-1913; Robert Henri Reedy Toledo Ohio 9-12-27.
Some of the signatures were those of soldiers who passed through Brailey during war time, said Mr. Kelley.
A gift shop has been set up in the depot, and railroad artifacts are on display too.
Outside, the privy has been restored, and renovation work is progressing on the coal shed.
"We have, as a family, enjoyed allowing the community to have an opportunity to enter these walls and experience just a taste of years gone by," said Mrs. Kelley.
"We've had nothing but support from those in this area for what we are trying to do. Many depots have either been left to decay, or have been literally torn down. Restoring such a large building from the past was a huge undertaking for my parents, but it's been incredibly rewarding."
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