Middleton Railway Museum prepares for reopening with new acquisitions

Volunteers John MacDonald, Allison Bell and Rick Jacques stand in front of the newly placed Plymouth shunting engine at the Middleton Railway Museum.  (Lawrence Powell/Middleton Railway Museum - image credit)
Volunteers John MacDonald, Allison Bell and Rick Jacques stand in front of the newly placed Plymouth shunting engine at the Middleton Railway Museum. (Lawrence Powell/Middleton Railway Museum - image credit)

The tracks at the Middleton Railway Museum may seem to lead nowhere.

But for railway aficionados, they lead to memories of a time when trains were the economic lifeblood of Nova Scotia.

The museum has been closed for the past two years due to the pandemic, but a team of volunteers has been busy with renovations and acquisitions ahead of a planned reopening in the spring, according to volunteer Lawrence Powell.

On Dec. 29, the Middleton-based museum added new equipment to its collection, including a tender and two shunting engines, known as industry engines, from the Museum of Industry in Stellarton.

John MacDonald, a volunteer who worked to get the new acquisitions, said it was the first of three truckloads of equipment donated by the Stellarton museum and the province.

MacDonald's favourite of the pieces is the tender, a car that goes behind a steam locomotive and provides coal and water.

"A corrugated kind of hose there would hook up to the steam locomotive and ... allowed the water to go to the locomotive to produce steam when the locomotive was hot-fired from the coal," he said

"We don't know for sure, but we believe it could be the only slant-back tender left in North America. And here it is on our lawn today."

Lawrence Powell/Middleton Railway Museum
Lawrence Powell/Middleton Railway Museum

Slant-back tenders, also known as slope-back tenders, allowed the train engineer a better look at the surroundings in the train yard.

Shunting engines

He said one of the shunting engines, called a Plymouth, was used to transport stones from the Wallace quarry. Stones from the quarry were used to build the Nova Scotia legislature.

The other engine, called a Vulcan, worked at the Bowater Mersey Pulp Mill in Brooklyn, N.S. It would have moved logs to the mill to be turned into pulp and then taken the finished product back out to the main railway line, according to Powell.

In creating a glimpse into the rail history of Nova Scotia, Powell said it was important that the museum conveyed the full extent of the significance of rail in the province.

"It is the romance and the glamour, the nostalgia," he said. "But it's also about the economy and the local economy and how the railway opened it up and how you could move goods from the valley, for instance, apples."

Lawrence Powell/Middleton Railway Museum
Lawrence Powell/Middleton Railway Museum

Powell said community involvement has been an important part of the development of the museum and they have benefited from community suggestions, stories and donations.

Student involvement

Additionally, he said, the museum has involved students and young people in what they do, including volunteer work from Lawrencetown Education Centre and Middleton Regional High School students.

Powell said there are generations of people in the Annapolis Valley who have never even seen a train, and the museum will let them see and touch one.

Volunteers have been hard at work getting the museum ready for reopening later this year, Powell said. The work includes renovations to the main building that include replacing the shingles.

Lawrence Powell/Middleton Railway Museum
Lawrence Powell/Middleton Railway Museum

In addition to the new equipment that will be on display when the museum reopens, there will also be a large model railway.

It will depict the railway running through the Annapolis Valley to Windsor, and will include an elaborate display of Grand Pré, Powell said.

Lawrence Powell/Middleton Railway Museum
Lawrence Powell/Middleton Railway Museum

He said the museum has inherited a large number of photographs over the years and they are being digitized so they can be turned into slide shows and interpretive exhibits.

The response to the reopening efforts has been overwhelming, Powell said.

"People have been eager, almost tripping over themselves, to help us," he said.

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