1920s train arrives at Newton Depot

The first addition to Newton Depot Authority’s outdoor museum rolled into the station on Tuesday, and it is more than 90 years old.

A crane lowered a 1920s-style locomotive and fuel tender into place on Tuesday on non-functional train tracks behind the Newton Depot Authority on N. Main Avenue.

Depot officials said there is only one other locomotive and tender set like it in the nation.

“We are truly blessed to have something like this here,” said Matt Bumgarner, Depot Authority board member. “We are trying to build a world class train museum here, and this is the cornerstone for that.”

The old train will be on exhibit first, but Bumgarner said the Depot Authority wants to restore the locomotive to working operational condition eventually.

“It is going to be a massive undertaking,” Bumgarner said. “But we will do cosmetic restoration first, and then operational after that.”

The locomotive and tender belonged to the city of Lakeland, Fla., where they were not being used. The Depot Authority was the highest bidder for the piece among several other museums.  

The Newton Depot Authority announced March 9 it will add an outdoor railroad museum to the historic Newton Depot. The railroad museum is designed to collect, restore and preserve railroad equipment that honors the railroad's history in western North Carolina. The Newton Depot Authority is planning a capital campaign to fund the project, said the authority's vice chairman Thomas W. Warlick. No city funds will be used toward the campaign.

Once completed, the outdoor museum will be free to the public.

Bumgarner said the depot still has another half-dozen pieces of equipment that are in various other phases of restoration off-site that will be included in the museum. Other planned additions to the Newton Depot will include a fence and concrete walkways for pedestrian traffic.

The Alexander Railroad donated the rails, spikes and other fittings needed to install three rail tracks adjacent to the depot. Newton Public works helped clear and grade the site.

The Western North Carolina Railroad reached Catawba County in 1860, according to the authority.

About 20 years later, the Chester and Lenoir narrow-gauge railroad joined the WNCRR and reached Newton.

Several other depots continued to serve Newton and Catawba County in the 19th century. The Elliott Building Company constructed the city's existing depot in 1924. The depot operated freight and passenger services for the next 50 years. Some of the Southern Railway's most famous passenger trains, including the Carolina Special and the Asheville, used the Newton Depot as a stopping point on their journeys, according to the authority.

Passenger rail travel was discontinued from the Newton Depot in 1975. The station stopped transporting freight in 1975. The depot continued as an abandoned building until 1995, when the Newton Depot Authority was founded.

With support from local citizens, the building was refurbished and moved to its current location at 1123 N. Main Ave. It opened to the public in 2006 and contains a railroad museum and a model railroad club. The existing museum displays headlights, china, silverware and bells from railroad cars, according to the authority.

The 1920s addition to the outdoor museum was transported to Catawba County by Steam Operations Corp. from Birmingham, Ala. Steam Operations President Scott Lindsay said his company does restoration, consulting, maintenance and operations for steam equipment like the locomotive.  

“This was built in 1920 for export, but it was never used for that,” Lindsay said.

The local chapter of the National Railway Historic Society will restore the piece in Newton, and Bumgarner said he invites all of the public to get involved at their monthly meeting on the first Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. inside the Newton Depot.