Cover: The Depot Event Center and Rail Museum

Erica Thompson
Photo by Chris Casella

The “Car 100” rail car has traversed a lot of ground in its approximately 130-year history. Built for the Ringling Brothers in 1886, the private executive car was later purchased by the Georgia & Florida Railway, which, at one point, operated more than 300 miles of road. When businessman James Buchanan Brady, aka Diamond Jim Brady, took ownership during the Gilded Age, he used the car to conduct deals and host high-stakes poker games.

And now, Car 100 sits on a parcel of land on Old Henderson Road in Northwest Columbus. It's one of three old cars acquired by the Depot Event Center and Rail Museum, a hidden gem owned by banking industry entrepreneur Barry Fromm.

“When we got it, it came from a printer in Fort Worth, Texas,” said manager Tim Baltzell during an interview in the cherry-wood interior of the car, which includes two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms and a kitchenette. “He would entertain his bigger clients. … They had air conditioning, heat. And they would sleep in the car.”

While most of the antique furniture came with the car, the Depot staff added Ringling Brothers posters, photographs and even a band uniform to capture the history of the car. An unlikely piece de resistance is a tiny pinhole in the bedroom wall facing the dining room. It was made by the daughter of a Georgia and Florida officer in the early 1900s. She was using a geometry compass to do her homework.

But several years ago, it provided a window into the paranormal for a little girl during a birthday party Baltzell hosted onsite.

“She goes, ‘While you were giving the tour, I went into the bedroom and I saw a man when I looked through the peephole,'” Baltzell said. The girl proceeded to describe Diamond Jim Brady exactly, from his portly figure to his signature diamond tie tack and red vest.

“This is the kicker: During the tour, I never said what he looked like,” Baltzell said.

Since 2004, the Depot has been hosting events, including rehearsal dinners, bridal showers and even a wake — minus the body — at the renovated 1880s train depot at the center of the site. In addition to Car 100, visitors can tour the 1950s-era “Ranch Dining Car” from the Great Northern Railway's Empire Builder train and take a look inside the Caboose, built in Vermont in 1909. The Caboose was Fromm's first purchase for the museum in 2000.

Fromm was inspired to start the Depot after buying the site's other building, which now houses his company, Value Recovery Group. Witnessing the hours he spent at work, his mother suggested he get a hobby.

“He looked over to the left and saw [the CSX] train tracks, and his idea was to buy a caboose,” said Fromm's son, Jordan. “[My grandmother] recoiled a bit and said, ‘That wasn't my original intent.'”

Despite the work and costs involved to transport the trains (by truck or over rail), and add period decorations, Fromm has grown very fond of his hobby.

“The joy is seeing people find something so unique in a Midwestern city,” he said. “It's a very unusual, eclectic step back in history.”

“This isn't just about trains,” Baltzell said. “It's about the history of travel across the United States, and how we grew as a nation. … I love teaching kids and other people about it.”

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921 Old Henderson Rd., Northwest Columbus

The Depot Event Center and Rail Museum