Old Town Cameron comes back to life

Cameron resident John Johnson works on the Old Town Cameron display. The display will hold a Grand Re-opening on July 4 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the old J.C. Penney building on the downtown square in Cameron.

A Cameron favorite will come back to life this Fourth of July.

Cameron’s Old Town Cameron model will hold a Grand Re-Opening on July 4 in the old J.C. Penney building on the downtown square in Cameron.

Several years ago, Cameron resident John Johnson donated his miniature model of 1940’s Cameron downtown and surrounding area with an HO gauge railroad to the Milam County Museum.  The 18-by-40-foot rendering of Cameron, includes the County Courthouse, which Johnson and his wife Frances took 35 years to construct.  The massive town and railroad structure has been moved three times and had lost some of its structural integrity. Local volunteers have been putting the pieces together, refitting, upgrading and cleaning it over the past few years.

Over the past two months, Johnson has been reunited with his creation. Milam County retired teacher Jamie Larson has been working alongside him.  

Larson delivered a proposal to the Milam County Museum Board to take on the challenge of getting the model trains running again and to turn the J.C. Penney building into a Creative and Cultural Arts Center for the residents of Milam County.  The proposal was received enthusiastically. Museum curator Charles King will serve as advisor for the project.

“With the Old Town Cameron model as the centerpiece, the building’s first floor will be transformed into a Milam County Railroad Museum,” Larson said. “The second floor will be used as a classroom/meeting room for volunteers to use to teach all types of cultural and creative arts directed for the young and old.”

Larson said community groups will be able to use the facility as a meeting area. It is hoped that individuals will come forward to share their talents in a wide range of creative arts such as painting, needlepoint, cross-stitch, model building, scrapbooking, photography and other arts. He said all young people, Boy and Girl Scouts, 4-H’ers will be encouraged to use the facility to work on their projects. Book clubs can use the area for study and discussion. Many programs will be geared as parent/child learning activities.

Larson and Johnson also hope to organize a Milam County Model Railroad Club to help them maintain and run the model trains.  Interested Milam County residents of all ages are welcome. Work has begun to upgrade the HO gauge railroad to an advanced DCC system where three “engineers” can run trains independently of each other. An area of the new museum has been prepared for creation of an O Gauge layout as well. You may contact Larson at jamlar50@yahoo.com for more information.

“We are working on leveling the track right now,” Johnson said.  “That’s the key to get this thing running good again.  I think we will be ready.”  

“In the past month I have come to truly appreciate the knowledge and remarkable crafting skills of John,” Larson said. “We have become quick friends. I hope Milam County residents truly appreciate what he has created.  We have the picture, the story and even some of the sounds of Cameron in its glory days preserved in this work of art.”  

Old Town Cameron will have a Grand Re-Opening on July 4.  The J.C. Penny Building will be open from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. The Milam County communities are all invited to witness the beginning of an ongoing project that will not only tell the story of Milam’s Railroad history it will teach how railroads helped build Texas. The Milam County Museum members will serve lemonade and cookies on the Fourth of July.

“We have already been in contact with the San Antonio Railroad Museum, the Austin Model Railroad Club, the Rockdale I&GN Railroad Museum and other model railroad enthusiasts and hope to have opportunities to share displays and information with Milam County residents in the future,” said Larson. “We will be contacting all of our states railroad museums as well.”

The two have also created a new brochure and will have it ready to distribute regionally and to other railroad museums, model railroad groups and the state’s historic running railroads soon. 

“We think it will help make Cameron a tourist destination as we begin to grow and create more offerings,” Larson said. “We hope Milam County residents will join us on the Fourth of July for a glimpse back into time through Old Town Cameron.  All Aboard!!”