Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Calera Alabama’s Railroad Museum

Our last stop on the way home from New Orleans and the Louisiana Delta was brief, but it is one that promises to be a destination for another drive along the byways of Alabama.

Welcome to the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum in Calera!  I was only looking for an old railroad depot but instead, we found a full blown railroad museum… Unfortunately the museum closed for the season a week before we stumbled across it!   

My depot locating research showed that there was an old railroad depot in Calera…and indeed there was!  Actually, there are 2 depots on this site.  However, neither of them was originally from Calera. 

The depot shown above served the Southern Railroad in the town of Wilton, Alabama which is roughly 10 miles west of Calera.  This depot dates back to somewhere between 1900 and 1910.  The Wilton Depot was known as a "combination depot" meaning the building served freight needs as well as passengers out of the same building.  This structure serves as the Heart of Dixie’s Railroad Museum, housing displays and artifacts that tell the story of Alabama’s railroad history.  Renamed the Calera Depot, tickets are now sold from its ticket agents window for weekend train rides on the museum's Calera and Shelby Railroad.

As you can see, the collection of rolling stock and railroad equipment on open display at Calera is fairly extensive.  It includes 8 steam and 8 diesel locomotives, more than a dozen passenger coaches and a plethora of boxcars, flatcars, cabooses and maintenance units…

We didn’t get a photo of the Woodlawn Depot so I borrowed this photo from the Museum’s website.   It was built in 1904 to serve the community of Woodlawn, now part of the city of Birmingham Alabama.  In 1916 it was referred to as the East Lake Freight Station. Later it was called the L and N Freight Depot.  This relocated depot houses most of the Museum’s library’s holdings.  These include over 1,400 books, 1,100 DVDs/Videos/CDs; children’s train books, rail-fan periodicals, related magazines, etc.

This is an ALCO HH900 Diesel Locomotive.  This switching locomotive was built in 1937 by The American Locomotive Company (ALCO), Schenectady, NY.  It was delivered to its original owner, the Birmingham Southern Railroad carrying the road number 82 and it sports that railroads colors today.

This is the boarding area for the Shelby and Southern Narrow Gauge Steam Railroad.  The Calera and Shelby Railroad runs on a portion of the former L and N Alabama Mineral Railroad which was established in 1891.  A first generation Diesel locomotive pulls the vintage passenger coaches along 6 miles of track.  On “Steam Days” an old steam locomotive pulls the train.  However, I did note that Steam Days have been cancelled for 2015. 

I’m glad that much of this antique rolling stock is partially protected from the elements… This Lima 0-6-0 steam locomotive was built in 1944 by the Lima Ohio Locomotive Works for the U.S. Army Transportation Corps.  It was the fourth of thirty-seven identical locomotives built that year. 

After WWII, the Mississippi Valley Equipment Company in St. Louis Missouri acquired this locomotive.  In 1947, #4046 was sold to the Alabama By-Products and Coke Company in Tarrant, Alabama.  It remained in regular or limited service until 1962.  In 1969, it was donated to the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum.

What would any museum be without a gift shop!?  In addition to snacks and drinks, the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum’s gift shop sells a wide variety of railroad related toys, books, railroad patches, railroad t-shirts, hats, etc.

The museum had kind of a rough start… The Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum, Inc. began as the Heart of Dixie Railroad Club.  Its first location was in Downtown Birmingham, across from the Alabama Power Steam Generation Plant.  The cars were largely donated to the Club by their respective railroads.  However, the cars were vulnerable to vandals.  Several cars were burned in different disputes over territory by homeless people.  In the Early 1980s, the Club secured several hundred acres and it made the move to Calera.

FYI…The Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum is just about 30 minutes south of Birmingham Alabama.

This is a Davenport 0-4-0 fireless locomotive.  Number 40, a yard switcher, was built in 1953 by the Davenport Locomotive Works in Iowa for the Alabama Power Company.

Rather than burning coal or wood to produce steam, the locomotive’s distinctive wide steam chamber was “recharged” with steam from the power plant’s boilers.  The process could last up to an hour and, when complete, brought the pressure in the steam chamber up to as much as 625 psi.  Each “recharge” lasted roughly 4 hours.  Because of the shape of its steam chamber, this 60-ton locomotive was nicknamed the “thermos”.

This Baldwin 2-8-0 steam locomotive was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1924.  It was purchased by the Battson-Hatten Lumber Company in Mississippi.  This locomotive was built to burn wood or soft coal and, as a result, it employed a tall stack.  Baldwin Locomotive Works were initially located in Philadelphia Pennsylvania but later moved to nearby Eddystone Pennsylvania. 

Primarily, the locomotive was used to haul logs over the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad (G and SIRR) main line from Forrest County Mississippi.  The Battson-Hatten Lumber Company closed in 1932.  The locomotive was then sold to the Birmingham Rail andLocomotive Co.  In 1935 it was acquired by the Woodward Iron Co. in Woodward, Alabama.

To learn more about The Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum or to buy tickets for the train ride, you can call them at 205-757-8383 or check it out on the website at  They are now open for the season.  We do plan to return to Calera to visit this museum!

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. What a neat place --and post today, David. I'm sure you (and probably I) will visit that place more in depth sometime... I have so many memories of riding those trains when I was young.... I need to find my Dad's journal/notes on our 2 week trip to California for my older brother's wedding---so that I can put that trip into a blog post sometime. I was only 8 ---but do remember quite a bit about that trip... Thanks for sharing this wonderful museum today....


  2. Looks like a good stop - I like the thermos

  3. What a fun filled trip you had on the way home. Too bad the museum was closed. My parents took me as a child to ride the train and I remember it well.