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ANDREW FLOYD/Special to Alachua County Today

L-R: Rhett Harris and Waldo's Clay Brooker, a country/county-rock guitarist and singer, enterained most of the afternoon.

WALDO – Families gathered from Waldo and surrounding areas to tour the Railroad Museum and attend the first ever July 4th Gala in Waldo Park.

The Waldo Historical Society had been working to complete the museum display’s inside of the City’s train caboose. “We have a lot more to install in our museum, but we're still working on getting it ready for display,” said Lucy Roe Cook, who describes herself as “founding mother” of the Historical Society. She and Penny Dodd were co-founders of the organization, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Right next door to the caboose is a shaded city park with picnic tables and benches. The city planned this first ever gala celebration in the park, and Dodd said their organization rushed to be able to get the museum open in time for both events to take place simultaneously.

Children toured the museum first and then walked to the park next door and enjoyed the water slide, ate hot dogs and corn on the cob. The slide, which was paid for by the City of Waldo, was a big hit with the children.

The park's picnic tables were filled with children and their families, as well as other visitors, many of whom were enjoying a snack on a hot dog or butter-dipped corn on the cob.

Clay Brooker, Waldo country/country-rock guitarist and singer, entertained most of the afternoon. He was later joined by another local entertainer, Rhett Harris, in a rendition of “The Waldo Song,” a song written by a local musician.

A sculpture, created by former Waldo resident and master sculptor, Nick Biggins (deceased), was sent to the historical society from Biggins as a gift to the organization. A contest to name the sculpture was held through The Waldo Phoenix, a historical society newsletter. The winner of the “Name the Sculpture” contest, Heather Waugerman, of Waldo, was announced around noon. Her winning entry was “The Nails that Tie Us Together.” The sculpture was on display inside the museum throughout the event, and Waugerman received “a crisp $10 bill, a Waldo Historical Society calendar and one-year membership to the historical society as her prize.

Grand Opening gifts for children were handed out and raffle prizes of a railroad clock, furnished by Tom's Cypress, and two horseshoe/spike toilet paper holders, also created by the late Biggins.

According to a Waldo Historical Society handout, the red caboose was acquired by the City of Waldo from the Seaboard System Railroad (CSX Corp.) in 1986. “It serves as an inspiration for the annual Waldo Railroad Days held in April. Two historical markers located nearby give a brief history of the town and information about Waldo during the Civil War.”

Opening remarks were provided by Historical Society President Vera Mauldin and Vice President Charles Griffin. Following an invocation by Rev. Jim DuBois, Mayor Louie Davis addressed the crowd and told a story about how the caboose came to be in Waldo. City Manager Kim Worley took time to explain where everything was located and directed folks to the park's food tables. Other comments were provided by Historic Society Board Members Millie Keirnan and co-founder Lucy Roe Cook.

Cook, dressed in a patriotic red, white and blue top hat, conducted tours of the caboose and told stories about the various aspects of the museum and how it functioned.

Handouts were available which explained what each of the different train whistles meant and how they were used for communication to railroad flagmen. Another handout touted the various duties a conductor had to perform while on duty and followed up with a list of Firemen, Trainmen, Flagmen, Brakemen and Conductors throughout the years.

“It was a great way to celebrate the July 4th holiday in a small town,” said Worley. “We enjoyed the opportunity to help our city celebrate Independence Day and also to see all the hard work our volunteers are doing on behalf of our new museum.”

“The Waldo Historical Society meets every Tuesday and Friday at 14402 Northeast 140 Avenue in Waldo and,” said Dodd, “we welcome anyone who wants to stop by for a visit or get involved in any way in the Waldo Historical Society.”

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