“Grease the pig! Tallowpot, grab that banjo and throw on some diamonds so we can bake a cake.” Commands similar to these could have been heard around the Pennsylvania Railroad in Dennison back in its prime. This railroad slang translated into our everyday English, would sound something like: “Oil the engine! Fireman, grab that shovel and throw on some coal so we can build up steam.”
Dennison Depot Museum in Dennison, Ohio displays the history of their depot in a rather unusual manner…in the cars of a train! Each car displays a particular section of interest varying from hospital car to telegraph office. There is much to explore and all is well marked with explanations.
Why would they have decided to buy the land to establish a town, where none existed, in this particular place back in 1865? Well, it wasn’t by chance! The spot they later named Dennison was exactly 100 miles between Pittsburgh, PA and Columbus, OH. The steam engines of that time could only travel a hundred miles before needing water, so this became their mid-way stop. Approximately forty trains stopped here daily during its peak, when Dennison had the most complete and largest railway yard in the nation. This model train lay-out shows in great detail part of that yard, and is maintained by a group of local model train enthusiasts.
Most exciting of all seemed to be the story of how they became known as Dreamsville, U.S.A. During WWII, the Salvation Army Canteen ,with nearly 4,000 volunteers, provided free food to around 1.3 million servicemen.
The train stops were only five to seven minutes long, so the girls went out on the platform to meet the train. They could see the loneliness, hunger and despair on the soldiers’ faces, so those young girls tried to have a smile and a kind word for everyone.
The soldiers said it brought back fond memories of their hometowns. These friendly, smiling girls reminded them of their moms, sisters, or girlfriends…plus there was free food. A dream come true! Thus the name Dreamsville, USA.
Because of all the trains, Dennison was a hotbed of hobo activity. Whenever a train would stop, many hobos would hop off looking for a place to get handouts. It was common practice for the hobos to make marks on a nearby tree or on the house itself, so other hobos would know if they would be well received. Marks of simple circles, arrows, or even animals signified: Good road to follow. Free telephone. House is well guarded. A kind old lady. They even had a camp along the Pennsylvania Railroad in the city dump, where they made makeshift shelter of tin wrapped around tree trunks.
Friendly volunteers patiently answered questions, making the day enjoyable as well as informative. Boarding takes place here for the Polar Express, which during the Christmas season takes children on a magical ride where they encounter Santa. Special events are scheduled throughout the year from Private Bulldog Bing’s Birthday Party to Ghost Tours in the fall.
After visiting the museum, the Trax Diner, located in the old depot, is a perfect place for a meal or a snack. Children were full of “whoo-whoos” while they were enjoying the atmosphere. Although they have delicious full-course meals, I chose a “Hobo Basket” filled with British style beer battered fish and chips. Since an English lady operates the diner, this seemed like a logical and delicious choice.
“Coal Cars”, stuffed potato skins, also chugged across the menu. Might have to return for “The Caboose”, a sugar and cinnamon shell filled with ice cream and toppings. Think a Caboose would be a perfect ending for a meal, a train… or a blog post!
Dennison Depot Museum is located in Dennison, Ohio not far from I-77. Take exit 81, 36 East, to the Dennison exit. Turn right on Second Street and continue on Second Street until you reach the tracks. Turn left on Center Street and after two blocks you will see the museum. Parking is on the left side of the street.