The exhibit has moved around the Jackson area over the years and has averaged about 15,000 visitors in the month of December annually.
For more than forty years, the model trains riding through the fictional town of Possum Ridge, Mississippi have been a holiday tradition delighting both children and adults. The site depicts a typical Mississippi railroad town of the 1940s. In its first year, the exhibit consisted of a single block of an electrified Main Street with ten buildings, including a bank, dry goods store, newspaper office, and restaurant.
Today the trains circle a town that has grown to include a depot, church, bakery, barbershop, icehouse, sawmill, cotton gin, train yard, and much more. There are also houses located off Main Street, farmsteads, a small airport, and even a river baptism scene.
It all started about fifty years ago when Dr. W.L. Jaquith, who headed the state mental hospital at Whitfield, donated his train collection to the Old Capitol Museum for display. Originally, the trains were set up on tables, but then someone had the idea to create a mythical village of Possum Ridge. Lucky Osborne, a Clinton model builder, built the first Possum Ridge. It was something he threw his life into, with the reward being the smiles of the children as they pointed to things they liked in the exhibit.
There are two feature trains, both replicas of passenger trains that ran through Mississippi in the 1940s through 1960s. The Panama Limited was built especially for the exhibit by the Lionel Corporation and is a favorite with most of the young people who come to see it. There is also a replica of the Old Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Rebel passenger train which ran from 1935 to 1954, stopping just behind the Old Capitol.
The exhibit has moved around the Jackson area over the years. It has been at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum, the Old Capitol Museum, and even north to Ridgeland’s Northpark Mall. The exhibit has averaged about 15,000 visitors in the month of December each year.
Walter Hazzlerigg of Vicksburg ran the trains at Possum Ridge for over twenty years. There was a time when he was the only engineer staffing the exhibit, and he did it all day, every day. After a move to Texas, Hazzlerigg ran the trains at the local zoo. Every year, he took his vacation time and returned to Jackson to run the trains.
The last time he was in Jackson, Hazzlerigg told Osborne of his plans to retire and purchase a caboose in which to live. He wanted to build a model train shop onto the caboose. Sadly, he passed away shortly thereafter, and Osborne was determined that Walter would have his caboose after all. He built Walter’s Caboose with the train shop on the back complete with a figure of Walter on the front porch. There is also a statue of the dedicated engineer in Possum Park.
The Possum Ridge model train exhibit will run this year at the Two Mississippi Museums during the month of December. There is no charge to view the exhibit, which is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00am to 5:00pm and Sundays from 11:00am to 5:00pm.
The Possum Ridge exhibit will be closed on December 25 and will end on December 31.