Established in 1881, the city of Bald Knob added the Bald Knob Depot in 1915. The facility, constructed by the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway, likely saw its share of strawberries shipped across the nation as Bald Knob was once heralded for the crop, even holding an annual Strawberry Fest. Now, the depot has a different use after it was added to the membership of the Union Pacific Train Town USA Registry.
Craig Christiansen and his wife, Cathy, owners of Arkansas Traveler Hobbies in the depot, were responsible for the recognition by Union Pacific.
“[When it was built], the train station was the nerve center of the community,” Christiansen said. “It was the way people got information from the outside world.”
Christiansen’s fascination with trains began when he was 4 years old, when he was given his first toy train.
He said part of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway ran through his grandmother’s backyard in California, and he was enthralled with trains and wanted to work with them for the rest of his life.
Christiansen worked in transportation investigation and undercover work in transportation fraud for many years, then moved to Arkansas in 1977.
The couple started their store, Arkansas Traveler Hobbies, 20 years ago in the Bald Knob Depot. The store has supplies for “the world’s greatest hobby” — model trains, he said.
In addition to the store in the depot, a museum, which depicts the history of the train station, is in the back of the building. Train memorabilia from years past illustrate how the depot and railroads have transformed over time.
“[Railroads] have come a long way,” Christiansen said.
Train seats from retired trains line the room, along with display case after display case filled with items such as dishes from dining cars and conductors’ hats.
“If you like history, this is the place to be,” Christiansen said.
The museum portion of the depot gives train enthusiasts a chance to see how far the
railroad system has come, and how it could potentially progress. Christiansen said that in the future, he would like to expand the museum to tell the story of the depot and railway system from the very beginning.
Christiansen said Bald Knob was founded in 1872, when the Cairo and Fulton Railroad planned to provide rail service to the area. The railroad laid the first tracks around 1873.
“The city exists because of the railroad,” he said.
Although the depot hasn’t been in place as long as the railroad itself, the tracks that run through Bald Knob have played a significant role in the town’s history, Christiansen said.
St. Louis Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad took over the railway in the 1880s, and operations of the Bald Knob Depot were taken over by the Missouri Pacific Railroad in 1917.
Then, from 1982 until now, Union Pacific Railroad is in charge of operations for the Bald Knob Depot.
The 98-year-old depot, with its recent Train Town USA designation, will appear on the Union Pacific’s registry as part of Union Pacific’s 150-year-anniversary celebration. More information about the Train Town USA registry is available at www.up150.com.