MANLY — An orange rail motorcar, weathered lanterns, signs, timetables and mural-size photographs are among the displays in the Manly Railroad Junction Museum, set to open to the public later this summer.
A project of Dan, Brad and Mark Sabin, descendants of Art Sabin, a former engineer for the Rock Island Railroad in Manly, the museum will be open weekends in August, said Brad Sabin, project manager for the Iowa Northern Railway Co., of Cedar Rapids.
It is housed in the former Oltman’s Grocery store at 101 E. Main St.
“We grew up in a railroad family and this was a railroad community,” Sabin, 50, said. “We wanted a museum for the community and for the people to enjoy and understand what the railroad used to be.”
The museum is a testament to the days when Manly was a hub for the Rock Island Railroad, the location of the Rock Island Terminal, Sabin said. In the early 1950s, as many as 14 passenger trains per day stopped at Manly, formerly known as Manly Junction.
The Sabins leased the grocery building in August 2010 and completely remodeled it, adding new carpeting, track lighting and a ticket office that features an iron grate from a depot in Texas.
Dramatic black-and-white photos dating from the late 1800s to modern times and 13 flat-screen TVs with separate slide shows help tell the story of the railroad days in Iowa and southern Minnesota, days that shouldn’t be forgotten, the Sabins said.
“It’s all of our heritage,” said Dan Sabin, 59, president and owner of the Iowa Northern Railway, which runs from Manly to Cedar Rapids. “Just about every town in Iowa was formulated by the railroads. Now I think people are realizing how important railroads are, particularly people who have lost theirs.”
He is especially excited about photos showing troop trains from World War II and the railway post office, Sabin said.
One photo shows a flag-draped Vietnam soldier’s coffin being unloaded from a train; another shows a middle-aged man receiving the body of his nephew killed in World War II in the 1940s.
“You can’t look at that without feeling the emotion of the human story,” Sabin said.
Depression-era photos of hobos and a family reduced to riding the rails, tug at the heart. An 1890s photo of women in long skirts pumping water at a railroad well presents a picture of life that few may remember.
Engineers lean out of their windows, a conductor holds up his lantern to signal the engineer.
“The main thing we’re trying to show is the different workers and characters of the railroad,” Brad Sabin said.
Many of the photos were donated. But Dan Sabin also donated from his own sizeable personal photo collection. The photos have been blown up to poster size on a museum-quality printer.
Other exhibits feature memorabilia such as railroad watches, grips, uniforms and tools, donated by Manly residents and other interested individuals.
Globe lights in the front portion of the museum are from the old Manly depot.
There is still much work to be done.
Exhibits need to be labeled, the collection must be indexed and there are still many materials — including a map collection from the Chicago Northwestern Historical Society and archives from the Rock Island Technical Society — to sort and organize.
One portion of the building is being set aside for construction of a model railroad.
“It’s a slow process to do it right,” Dan Sabin said.
Construction of the museum would not have been possible without a $88,547 grant from the Worth County Development Authority in April 2011, Sabin said.
Earlier WCDA grants for $50,000, in April 2008, and a special grant of $10,000 in November 2007, were also used toward the project, including for the purchase of 10 acres of land on the north side of town.
An adjoining seven-acre parcel was donated by Lois Thompo, Brad Sabin said.
The Sabins hope in the not too distant future to build a permanent structure to house the railroad museum and a community center for the citizens of Manly to enjoy.
“I’ve been collecting since I was a little kid,” Dan Sabin said. “It’s an opportunity to share this. We’re really hopeful that people will have artifacts and photographs that we can use.”
Anyone wishing to donate railroad memorabilia or photos to the new Manly Junction Railroad Museum is asked to call Brad Sabin at 641-425-6104.