By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
History will come to life in November when the 11th Annual Soulé Live Steam Festival brings visitors from around the country to see steam engines in action in Meridian.
Greg Hatcher, executive director of the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum at the historic Soulé Steam Works factory, said steam engines will be running at the museum, which houses old engines, tools, a collection of more than 2,000 photographs and other items.
"The blacksmith shop will be in operation and we'll have several blacksmiths demonstrating blacksmithing," Hatcher said. "That is always one of the most popular things we demonstrate. It's not very common that you can get this close and inside to see somebody blacksmithing."
Hatcher said steam shows are that common in the Southeastern United States and the one here is among the largest.
George W. Soulé founded the company in the 1890s, and throughout ensuing years developed and patented products that used steam engine technology, including some that changed the timber industry.
"The Speedy Twin was a steam engine that was developed and patented by Mr. Soulé in 1921 and it was used to power the carriage and feed the log into the saw blade. That's where steam feed comes from," Hatcher said. "It became very famous. It was very efficient and maneuverable. That's the reason collectors love them today because you can put steam on them and they can operate in forward or reverse instantly and stop, slow, fast. It's a very, very controllable steam engine."
The Soulé company was also meticulous about record-keeping.
"All the company records from 1892 to about 2002 are all here," Hatcher said. "All the employee records, every engine that was ever built and who the original owner was. People still write and ask us what kind of information we have on things and so, for a small fee, we look it up for them and send them the documentation."
There are other steam engines at the museum that were not built or used there, but because of their connection to the steam engine industry, are included in the collection, Hatcher said.
Meridian Community College's Industrial Technology students will be at the festival demonstrating work on the antique equipment.
For those who have not attended the festival for a few years, Hatcher recommends coming back.
"There are people who haven't come since our first event," Hatcher said. "There's so much more to see. We really want people who were here before to come again. If you haven't been here in the last three years, you really haven't seen everything. We have continued on, with the help of our volunteers, sponsors and donors to get some really really great stuff here."
Hatcher said people are surprised when they visit the museum and festival for the first time.
"The first time people see this they are really amazed that it still exists. They are amazed that the things are still here; just like the people walked away and left it," Hatcher said.
"There are only about four places in the United States that were industrial sites that have this intact of a space. Last year we had people come from 24 states and several other countries. It's a big draw outside the area but we especially want our local people to come and see what we have done in the last 11 years," he said.
Attendees who wish to do so may don a costume of some era from the factory's hey day, according to Genie Durden, festival president.
"Some of us are dressing vintage," Durden said. "I chose the 1920s era. We thought we'd give it a little something extra by dressing vintage."
When Soulé Steam Works closed in July 2002, Jim McCrae purchased the building from the Soulé family, Hatcher said.
"The whole purpose was to preserve the site because we knew it was so rare, Hatcher said. "The goal was to turn it into an industrial museum to try to open to the public and to bring a tourism impetus into the community."
Other events will be on hand that weekend as well, according to Jean Orcutt, a member of the Carousel Organ Association of America. The group of carousel organ enthusiasts will again rally in Meridian in conjunction with the steam engine festival. The group will be disbursed in the outside area of the train station and museum
"They will be demonstrating and playing their organs. We will have several members with what we call monkey organs or street organs," Orcutt said. "We hope to have several large trailer-sized organs on display."
Also during that time, the Smithsonian Institution exhibition "The Way We Worked" will be open at the museum through Nov.12.