If you are traveling the Rock and Roll Highway between Little Rock and Jonesboro, Arkansas; there is definitely a stop you want to make. In Bald Knob, Arkansas there is an old train depot known as the Mopac Depot and in this depot is the Arkansas Traveler Hobbies train store. It’s not just a train store though. Along with the model trains they sell in all scales and gauges, new and old, is a museum of historical artifacts that you won’t find anywhere else.
The historic Mopac Depot was built in 1915 by the St. Louis, Iron Mountain, and Southern railway company. Although the railroads changed through the years, the depot still stood proud as passengers came and went, telegraphs passed through, and goods were shipped. It was in operation through both World Wars and even after the coming of Amtrak in 1971 when it was no longer a regular stop on the route. It is actually located at a unique junction of the Union Pacific Railroad where the lines to Memphis and St. Louis split, but even though it is an important spot it was almost torn down by the city in 2002 due to the criminal activity in the building. This is where the story gets interesting.
Craig Christiansen, a former Transportation Investigator, lived in Pine Bluff and owned a train store since 1993. A good friend of his and fellow train enthusiast David Jackson would often drive down from Bald Knob to help out with the store and visit. There came a time when Craig decided he would move the store out of Pine Bluff, and the search began for a new location. They looked in several places between Pine Bluff and Bald Knob, but none were a good fit. One day David told Craig about the old depot in Bald Knob and how the city said it was a liability and might get torn down. Craig came to Bald Knob, looked at the depot, met with city officials, and an agreement was reached in November of 2002. The work began in 2003, and the renovations took two and a half years. With the great work of Delk Construction and the help of Craig’s wife Cathy, the Mopac Depot became the new home of the Arkansas Traveler Hobbies train store. The results are amazing.
As you pull up to the depot it looks as it did back then. When you walk in you are welcomed by model cities and landscapes when trains were the way to travel. In this room the operator’s bay has been preserved so you can sit and watch the trains come and go, hear the railroad radio traffic, and even see where trains are located outside the city on a computer monitor that is in real-time and shows what the dispatcher would see. The museum offers private tours for visitors as they stop by and group tours by reservation. It houses railroad and community memorabilia, and you can sit in real locomotive seats to watch the video on the restoration of the depot. Craig and Cathy even hold rail safety Operation Life Saver classes for the public. This store and museum is a must see for anyone whether you are a train enthusiast or not and don’t worry there are plenty of restaurants and gas stations close by for all your traveling needs.
Info for Arkansas Traveler Hobbies:
400 Market Street
Bald Knob, AR 72010
(501) RAILFAN (724-5326)
Facebook: Arkansas Traveler Hobbies