Meridian Star

Local News

November 1, 2012

Rail history available in new book ‘Railroads of Meridian’

MERIDIAN —     Charles "Skeeter" Lang turned 92 years old last week.

    He got the name "Skeeter" from Dr. Charles Ray, which is who Ray Stadium is named for at Meridian High School. The dentist, Dr. Ray, told Lang, a 109 pound tailback at the time — "You run like a mosquito!"

    Lang remembers playing in the first game at that field when Meridian beat Jackson 19-12.

    "You hit where I'd been," Lang said. "I depended on speed."

    Lang finished high school in 1941 and went to work for the GM&O (Gulf, Mobile & Ohio) Railroad the next year. Then a little thing called World War II took him away from the tracks for a while. After his service in the U.S. Navy on a mine sweeper based in Cuba, he went back to the railroad.

    Lang started out as a switchman, and became yard master later.

    "I didn't really like that 'cause I didn't like to tell people what to do. If you had a job, you should know what to do," he said.

    Other than that, Lang says he enjoyed working for the railroad. He has been retired since 1977, but he still talks about those days and keeps up with other retired railroad men with regular gatherings at The Checkerboard Restaurant

located in the Best Western Motel in Meridian.

    Tommy Rayner is another retired railroad man who can be found at those meetings. He worked on the Illinois Central Railroad from 1949-1996. His first job was that of a fireman, shoveling coal on a steam engine.

    Like Lang, a war interrupted his work for a while. Rayner was part of the U.S. Marine Reserve Unit that served in Korea from 1950-1952.

    Back at work after the war Rayner became a locomotive engineer in 1961.

    At 67 he retired.

    "I still enjoyed it, but I was getting tired of it," he said with a smile.

    Without railroads Meridian wouldn't have a history, and these two men, and many more like them over the years, might have found themselves in completely different lines of work.

    A new book, "Railroads of Meridian," was published this year by Indiana University Press. Written by J. Parker Lamb with contributions by David H. Bridges and David S. Price, the book chronicles Meridian's intriguing 155-year history as a center of railroad activity.

    The book, which also is filled with old photos of Meridian's railroad history, will be available this weekend during the Soulé Live Steam Festival, Meridian RailFest and Carousel Organ Association of America Rally.

    This family-friendly two-day event being held Friday and Saturday, is billed as a "Whistlestop Weekend" in Meridian, which is open to the public free of admission.

    The book can be purchased at the Meridian Railroad Museum, 1805 Front St., adjacent to Union Station.

    "I find the entire book interesting," said Mick Nussbaum, director of the railroad museum. "There are not many towns of this size that have a book about their rail history."

    His father was a railroad man from Vicksburg.

    One part of "Railroads of Meridian" includes a photo from around 1920 credited to the Matthew Nussbaum collection.

    The photo is of the brick-lined circular tunnel built by Southern Railroad in the Lost Gap community, five miles south of Meridian.

    Lost Gap got its name because of a compass failure that occurred during construction of the Southern Railroad line around 1859.

    For three days two surveying crews each waited on the other to join up with them to lay out the route. Finally their search parties met up.

    Underground iron deposits was blamed for the mixup, skewing the magnetic compasses, which caused the eastbound crew to veer south, and the westbound crew to veer north. Consequently the route has an unplanned section of track running north and south — a "lost gap" in the original route survey.

    The Meridian Railroad Museum is regularly open on the first and third Saturdays of the month, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free.

    "People wander in from all over the country," Nussbaum said. "There's nothing that's in that museum that is not railroad — including the building."

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