By RHETT MORGAN World Staff Writer
The detailed train set was a Grove man’s passion; his wife donated it after his death.
CLAREMORE — Flashing red lights from a railroad crossing gate introduce visitors to one of the newest exhibits at the J.M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum.
Inside the display are a miniature landscape of trees, buildings, people and trains. They represent the passion of Danny Bradley, whose boyhood love of model trains was rekindled in the years before his death in 2007.
His widow, Judy, of Grove, donated the set to the museum two summers ago. For the past 11 months, museum worker Robert Parris has been helping restore the display to its former glory.
“His layouts were just painstakingly, tremendously well-done because that’s all he had to do” Parris said.
About a three-pack-a-day smoker, Danny Bradley was diagnosed with emphysema at age 44. But it wasn’t until 2001 that the disease intensified.
Limited physically, unable to work and on oxygen, the ex-truck driver struggled to keep boredom at bay. So he took up what made him happy as a child — model railroading.
His hobby started on a 4-by-8 sheet of plywood, Judy said.
“From there, the project grew bigger and bigger,” she said. “He ended up with three levels of tracks that went all the way around our room down there.”
The couple would make monthly trips to Fayetteville, Ark., to buy train accessories, she said.
“It was just like Christmas to him because we didn’t just come back with one thing,” Judy said. “We came back with a bunch of things.”
When Danny, who operated the Grove water treatment plant after retiring from truck driving, died in January 2007, Judy was unsure what to do with the train layout. She contacted the Fayetteville hobby store. Someone suggested eBay, but she didn’t want to sell the collection one item at a time. Ultimately, the J.M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum was called.
“It took three men all day long just to pack up the little trees and little trains and little people and buildings” Judy said.
Parris remembers seeing the layout for the first time. The three-tiered tracks encircled a 22-by-22-foot room and featured a town, cemetery, crop-sown fields, livestock, pumpkin patch, golf course, campsite, grain elevator and a lake with fishermen.
“It was unbelievable” he said. “We weren’t expecting what we saw.”
Thanks to the museum, Danny’s legacy is taking shape nicely in Claremore.
To help draw visitors into the display, Parris erected two railroad crossing gates, which were donated to the museum from a Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway yard in Tulsa.
On the walls of the exhibit room is a mural painted by Parris, who added touches such as a drive-in movie theater to the display. Guests may push buttons to operate the model train and hear authentic train sounds such as a whistle and a conductor saying, “All aboooard.”
“There are probably 10 times that amount of stuff that I gave him” Judy Bradley said. “He (Parris) has a lot in storage, and he said he would put out what he has room for, which won’t be much more. But I’m just tickled to have it go some place where somebody can have some good out of it.”