A nondescript building that once contained a deer processing business houses a world where the Bulldogs play the Demons under Friday night lights, Frank Flint sweeps the streets, Eldon Brown is marshal and a train runs the tracks.
In actuality, the world is a detailed model railroad whose scenes are a historically correct version of 1950’s and 60’s Wisner and was created by Harold Stephens, a Wisner resident.
Stephens, a retired postman, started working on the model railroad after viewing his son, Wayne Stephens, mimicking the sound of a train horn on YouTube.
Soon afterward, Stephens and his son started collecting trains and items for the various scenes that have now filled the building.
“Wayne kept telling me I ought to do this,” Stephens said. “He told me, ‘Daddy, I’ll finance it if you want to do it.”
Stephens spent many hours gathering information to build the model which covers north Wisner to Peck. He relied on his childhood memory, books from Franklin Parish Library and talking with long-time Wisner residents W.H. Roach and Webster Stephens. Shannon Smith, of Jigger, helped Stephens with painting duties.
“They gave me a lot of ideas,” Stephens said.
The model train runs through Wisner along LA Hwy 15 in front of the store front similar to the past. As it travels through Wisner, Elam and Peck it ducks under the table and circles around.
“I couldn’t have it going around Wisner because it wouldn’t be right,” Stephens said. “The train went through Wisner, so I just ran it under the table.”
The model railroad buildings include many stores long closed in the community. Those stores include Cooper’s Dry Cleaners, Cecil Brewer’s Parts House, Buy Rite, an ice house, three auto dealerships and grocery stores.
Additionally, the model railroad includes churches, homes, and streets.
There are spots particularly close to Stephen’s heart.
One such spot can be found on a park bench in front of Armstrong’s in 1962. The scene shows two ladies and a gentleman. The gentleman and one lady are sitting on the bench with the other lady standing.
The gentleman is Stephens and he is sitting with his first wife, Tressie Kimball. The lady standing is Mary Stephens, his current wife.
“Tressie was my best friend,” Ms. Stephens said. “I introduced her to Harold.”
Kimball passed away with kidney cancer only 10 months after they were married. The Stephens married a few years after she passed away.
Another spot on the model railroad is located near the center. The spot is Saturday night in Wisner and Town Marshal Eldon Brown is about to draw the name of a lucky prize winner. Streets in Wisner were crowded on Saturday nights as town folk and those from the country converged to buy groceries, go to the movies and converse with each other. Many times store owners would giveaway prizes to attract customers and Brown would pull their name out of a barrel.
As Stephens looked at the model cotton gin, he laughed when he remembered an incident with a farmer.
“Monroe Graves brought a bale of cotton to the gin on a wagon pulled by mules,” Stephens said. “When they robbed the bank, the alarms went off and it scared the mules and they ran home without him. He had to walk home.”
The model railroad features Wisner Bulldog football field, complete with stands, stadium lights and press box.
“Wisner just scored a touchdown,” Stephens said with a smile. “They’re winning.”
One of the many characters the model railroad highlights is Frank Flint, a crippled African-American man who would sweep the streets each night in Wisner. Residents would often see him with a broom and a wheel barrel picking up trash around town.
Many structures featured in the model railroad were built by hand and took hours to construct.
“I had to work with tweezers (on some of the buildings),” Stephens said.
Work continues on the project as Stephens said he regularly visits the model railroad and as he inspects his creation, ideas starting forming in his head.
“I won’t ever get done,” Stephens said.
To Stephens, there is still many more memories to model in his world.