Visitors to the Martin and Frances Lehnis Railroad Museum will see it all — from fine china used in dining cars during the heyday of passenger train travel to historic photographs documenting the impact of railroading to the Brownwood area.
But one of the largest exhibits, as well as one of the smallest, were in the spotlight Friday as the City of Brownwood held grand opening ceremonies.
One is so big, it has to be displayed outside. The other is small enough to hold in one hand.
The big exhibit, a 1929 Pullman superintendent’s business car visible outside the building, weighs 200 tons. The steel car features a concrete floor, and is one of only six remaining.
“It’s called a short business car, and Santa Fe was the railroad that used them,” Marilyn Lehnis of San Antonio, the daughter-in-law of the museum’s namesakes, said.
Mrs. Lehnis, the widow of the couple’s only son, had become owner of the car and made it a part of the museum with thousands of other items the family gave to the city.
“Santa Fe was the only railroad that gave its superintendents at the regional level a car like this,” Mary Irving, curator of the new museum, said. “The superintendent in Temple, for example, had a car like this.”
Lehnis’ late husband acquired the car from its owner in Kansas, and it is totally furnished. It was designed to sleep six in two bedrooms, and is equipped with a full galley.
One of the smallest items in the museum, donated on Sept. 11, is a ticket used for admission to a commemorative train ride during the Brown County Centennial in 1956. During the ride, an Old West train robbery was staged near the Brady Highway.
“I have kept it tucked away with a fond memory of what happened on the trade ride I took at age 10,” Simmie Reynolds of Brownwood, said. “I can remember a masked cowboy riding up alongside the window where I was sitting. The train was stopped, but the robbery attempt failed.”
Reynolds’ ticket has now become part of the Lehnis museum collection, along with hundreds of other railroad memorabilia from the Lehnis family and dozens of other area residents.
“I’m from a railroad family since my dad, S.O. Talley, worked 42 years for Santa Fe,” Reynolds said. “He was a switchman who started out working in the yard after World War II. I remember he worked from 11:59 p.m. to 7:59 a.m. I can still picture him wearing his overall, railroad cap and carrying his lantern as he would come and go to work.”
Reynolds said her family lived on Avenue D, not far from the depot, so the trains of the trains buckling and the whistles blowing are beautiful to her still.
“Our friends and other railroad employees, such as the L.L. Fry, Truett Cadenhead and Henry Wheat families, became a big part of my life because of the Santa Fe Railroad.,” Reynolds said.
The museum will be open today from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. as part of the Brownwood Reunion Celebration, and admission is free.