By now, most area residents have heard of the Ruland Junction Toy Train Museum in Heber Springs. When we first featured the museum in 2012, owners Wayne and Susan Ruland had just opened their door after years of preparation and hard work. Since that time, word has spread across the state about the museum and we decided to re-visit the Rulands to see how far this passionate project has come.
In our initial feature, Wayne took us on a journey through his childhood as he and his late brother, Gary, developed their love of toy trains from their father, Ed. From a lifetime of building and collecting toy trains, which their father started in the family basement, to the spectacular display they showcase today, Wayne has created a gem for the city of Heber Springs and an outstanding legacy for his father and his brother.
When we last visited the museum, the downstairs portion was the most prominent feature, with the upstairs section still under development. Since that time, the upstairs has turned into an engaging display of scenery and toy trains.
Daniel Hipp, 19, of Heber Springs has joined the museum family and was proud to show off his new creation in the works. "This is what I like to call the Ruland legacy passed on to a new generation," said Hipp. "This will be a diesel shop (referring to a building under construction in "New Town"). "
"The first project of anything he's ever built," said Susan. "He's drawing all the brick by hand."
New Town and Old Town are how the Rulands are designating each end of the upper section of the museum.
"Old Town pretty much represents New Jersey where Wayne grew up," said Daniel.
"It could be old Newark," added Susan
Daniel pointed to the new supports under construction in Old Town to create an elevated railway above the grounded train rails, which is Wayne's newest project for the museum.
The goal of the Old Town/New Town project is to create a journey through America, via rail. Old Town will represent the beginning on the East Coast with New Town representing railway destinations on the West Coast, with Middle America being representing in the middle as the train makes its journey.
"We want to create some landmarks to show the trains' journey across the country in places like St. Louis and Mt. Rushmore," said Susan.
From a trickle of visitors in the beginning, the museum has grown in terms of spectators and recognition. Last year, they were featured in The Lion Roars, a national magazine devoted to toy train aficionados. They were also featured in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, as well as The Sun-Times and our complimentary Lake Lifestyles magazine. They now have visitors regularly, including groups from schools and other organizations.
Page 2 of 2 - "We had 24 kids that really want to become a part of this," said Susan. "Daniel is one of our proudest examples of what we've accomplished because of what he's accomplished. He knew a phenomenal amount about trains when he first came here but he's getting much better about speaking to the public and talking about the history of trains and such." Indeed, any question I had was readily answered and in full detail by Daniel, who seemed to rival any encyclopedia in his knowledge. "We have a 4-year-old that's learning to operate them," continued Susan. "This museum is very kid friendly and we love talking to any children that have an interest in learning about trains."
The museum has certainly grown in exposure and recognition since we first discovered it in 2012. It has become a destination for tourists and Heber Springs is fortunate the Rulands call our area home. Their dream and legacy has become one of those gems we so often talk about in Cleburne County.
The museum is open Friday through Sunday from 9am to 4pm and is located at 401 S. 12th Street in Heber Springs and can be reached at 501-362-6342. They ask that any large groups please call ahead and make reservations before arriving at the museum.