BELLE PLAINE — As a moving truck inched away from the Bill and Sammye VanderWall farm carrying with it a 134-year old train depot, somewhere in the distance a freight train rumbled, its whistle sounding as a lone sentinel lost in time.
In the beginning of its six-mile journey to a new home at the Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine, a few tree branches scraped and creaked against the Oxford depot. Robin Macy refused to be worried.
“These guys are total quality guys,” Macy, the steward of the arboretum, said of the moving crew, Unruh House Moving of Moundridge.
At between 5 and 10 mph, the truck carrying the old depot passed curious cows and calves and wooded areas where cardinals called out. A convoy of cars and power trucks followed the truck carrying the depot.
The legacy of the Oxford depot began in 1879 when the Southern Kansas & Western, acting on behalf of the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, built a spur from Grenola in Elk County to Wellington, via Winfield, according to James Marshall’s “Santa Fe, The Railroad that Built an Empire.”
By the 1990s – more than a century later – the old depot building had fallen into disrepair. That’s when it was acquired by Bill and Sammye VanderWall, who moved it to their farm east of Belle Plaine and restored it.
For two decades, Sammye VanderWall used it for her ceramic studio, the De Pot Depot. Her signature motif was leaf designs.
She died nearly two years ago, and her husband recently approached Macy and offered her the depot, providing she could move it to the arboretum. The VanderWalls were married there in 1966.
The depot, Macy said, is a memorial to Sammye VanderWall.
“She was a wonderful artist and a woman dear to the place,” Macy said.
Sixteen power lines had to be raised along the route – 14 by Sumner-Cowley Electric Co-op; two by Westar Energy. Neighbors along the route came and stood at the edge of the driveways, waved and watched the depot inch along.
The depot traveled past blue jeans hanging on a clothesline, wheatfields and shelterbelts, tumbleweeds and farmyards where old railroad boxcars served as sheds.
One man at the Belle Plaine landfill stood on the back of a pickup to watch the depot processional.
After a four-hour journey, the old Oxford railroad depot arrived at the arboretum. It will take another two days before it is officially secured and bolted in place on the foundation built for it.
Macy said she can’t wait until workshops and classes can begin and art is displayed in the 134-year-old depot.
“I was so honored by this gift,” Macy said Monday after the depot had safely reached the arboretum. “The Arb will be forever changed, and we will be so blessed by its space.”