Daily World: Museum gains railroad clock
Keeping trains running on time has always been critical to railroading and now the Opelousas Orphan Train Museum, located in a former Union Pacific Railroad depot, has its own historic railroad clock.
"When I started in the business we still had watch inspectors who would come by and check every clock. You couldn't be off by more than 15 or 20 seconds," said William Thibodeaux, who retired after 38 years with the Union Pacific Railroad and arranged for the donation.
The museum tells the story of the tens of thousands of orphans who were shipped out of the crowded slums of New York and other northern cities to new homes in rural farming communities throughout the nation.
Thousands came to this area, brought by local Union Pacific trains that where the lifeblood of the area in the 1800s and 1900s before the growth of the nation's highway system.
While the large, pole-mounted clock, donated by the railroad, is a new one, Drew Tessier with UP's public affairs office, said it is an authentic model of those that used to grace such depots.
"Every train depot had a big clock like this. It fits perfectly with this museum," Tessier said.
He said the donation is a good fit for the railroad, that still serves this area, though primarily with freight trains now.
"We have a history with this museum and we are the railroad that brought these children here. We have a long history with this area, a history we want to preserve," Tessier said.
Harold Dupre, a local resident and president of the state's Orphan Train Society, said the donation is only one of many the society has received since the museum opened last year.
He mentioned a judge from St. Louis, Mo., who came through a few months ago.
"She had a woman practicing in her court whose mother had come to Crowley as part of the Orphan Train," Dupre said.
That woman in the judge's court was so happy to learn a museum had been set up to honor such orphans that she donated a number of items, including the original coat her mother had worn on the long train ride from New York.
"We are still finding new orphans as well," said Dupre, who pointed to a group of 19 members of one extended California family who came through this week.
"Their mother had been an Orphan Train rider who came to Broussard," Dupre said.
Since it opened, Dupre said the museum, the state's first and only the second in the nation dedicated to the orphans, has seen thousands of visitors.
The Orphan Train is the popular name for the nation's first foster care program that was begun in 1854 by the New York Foundling Hospital but was soon picked up by other agencies.
Between 1854 and 1929 more than 150,000 orphans, with numbers pinned to their clothes and accompanied by nuns, boarded trains to new homes.
More than 2,000 of these orphans came to Louisiana, primarily to St. Landry and Evangeline parishes.
Flo Inhern with the society said her group has no idea how many local descendants there may be today, but the numbers are surely in the tens of thousands.
According to records from the national Orphan Train Society, St. Landry Parish's orphans were some of the lucky ones. Where the orphans elsewhere were often treated as little more than unpaid farm hands, here almost all become members of their adoptive families.
Dupre, himself a decendant of one of these orphans, credits The Rev. John Engberink, the priest at St. Landry Catholic Church at the time, for making that possible.
"Our orphans were pre-placed, the parents pre-screened," Dupre said.
For more information, call the museum at 948-9922 or visit it online at www.laorphantrain.com.