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A gift of railroad history

Fall 2013


Jennifer McDaid, Norfolk Southern's historical archivist, always is on the hunt for artifacts to add to the railroad's museum collection. 0ccasionally, they come to her - like the unexpected gift from Harlen Wilson of Bluford, Ill.

Over the years, Wilson, a retired railroader and Southern Railway fan, had collected an assortment of china and silverware used on Southern dining cars when the railroad operated passenger service. He recently called McDaid from out of the blue: Would NS be interested in them?

McDaid was delighted when they showed up in the mail a few days later. The items include a 1925 butter pat dish; a silver sugar bowl and tongs; a silver crumb tray; a bone dish; a soup bowl and saucer; a demitasse cup and saucer; a plate from the 1950s; and a highball glass.

"We did not have items like this in our collection, and they are precious," McDaid said. "To be able to see and touch something like this really adds to the history of the company and what we know about its predecessors."

Now 78, Wilson hired on in 1964 as a communications engineer with the Missouri Pacific railroad and retired in 1990 from Union Pacific, which acquired the MP. Though he never worked for Southern, Wilson became enamored with the railroad as a boy during the 1940s in Mt. Vernon, Ill., where he frequented a restaurant next to the tracks that was a gathering spot for local Southern train crews. He's a member of the Southern Railway Historical Association and met CEO Wick Moorman a few years ago during an association meeting at Brosnan Forest.

"I'm trying to find a good home for some of the stuff I acquired," Wilson said of his donation, "and I couldn't think of a better place than the railroad."


Editor’s note:  Anyone interested in donating railroad artifacts or memorabilia can contact
McDaid at 757-823-5325 or