Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum
The Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum is a railroad history museum located in Calera and "dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and operation of historically significant railway equipment". It was created by the Heart of Dixie Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.
From 1963 to the 1990s, the group's collection of locomotives, cars and other equipment was located on vacant land east of the Alabama Power Steam Plant on Powell Avenue in downtown Birmingham. The presence of that collection was an impetus toward the development of long-range plans to develop the site for historical interpretive purposes. Long after the Railroad Club moved its collection to Calera, the downtown site was transformed into Birmingham's Railroad Park.
A feature of the Calera museum is two operating trains, one standard gauge and one narrow gauge. There are also two restored depots, a permanent indoor exhibit of railroad artifacts and memorabilia, and an outdoor exhibit of railroad locomotives, passenger cars, cabooses and special cargo cars.
The visitor's center houses administrative offices, restrooms, vending machines and a gift shop surrounded by a wide porch with picnic tables.
The indoor museum exhibits are housed in the Calera Depot (the former Wilton Southern Railway Depot. The collection includes artifacts, equipment and memorabilia from all eras of railroading, including some items recovered from the Birmingham Terminal Station before its demolition.
The heart of the museum, however, is the collection of 13 locomotives and 15 train cars displayed outdoors in the Clark Yard. Numerous vintage cars are available for close-up viewing as they undergo restoration and conservation.
The museum operates two trains for visitor excursions.
The Shelby & Southern Railroad is a narrow (two foot) gauge steam-powered train, inherited from the Birmingham Zoo. It runs along a newly-graded router through the woods near the museum and along Buxahatchee Creek. The locomotive pulls up to four open coaches on the 10-15 minute circuit. A replica gold-mining village is being created as a destination for this line.
The Calera & Shelby Railroad is a standard-gauge train pulled by a US Army SW-8 diesel switcher locomotive along a 10-mile stretch of a former branch of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad's Alabama Mineral Line alongside Buxahatchee Creek. Cars available include several open cars with bench seats, some 1910s - 1950s vintage coaches, a dome car, commissary car and caboose. A round trip takes a little over an hour.
In April 2006 the museum acquired an air-conditioned passenger coach from the Long Island Railroad. In September 2006 an extension to the standard-gauge rail line used for passenger excursions brought the round trip to 10 miles total, with a locomotive run-around at the end of the line in Springs Junction. There are plans to extend the line to the town of Shelby.
Both trains run regular service on Saturdays and some Sundays and for special events. The "William Penn", a first-class dining car built in 1951 is available for charter and for private events on the Calera & Shelby line.
On November 5, 2006 the museum opened the William A. Boone Railroad Library inside the former Woodlawn L & N Depot building. The collection of over 7,000 volumes of railroad manuals, documents, photos, and other materials dating to the late 1800's was donated by William A. Boone of Glen Iris.
- Drexel, Keysha (November 8, 2006) "Railroad history library opens at Calera museum." Birmingham News.