A barn find in El Reno reveals a pile of Rock Island legacy

Great State

EL RENO, Okla. (KFOR) – If you want to know anything about what the Rock Island Railroad meant to this town all you have to do is visit the old 1907 depot, now the Canadian County Museum, and a whole room devoted to the thousands of employees who worked at the operations center and roundhouse for close to a century.

Sadly, that era ended with liquidation in 1980; old tracks, tools, whatever was of value was auctioned off, scattered to the winds, sold for scrap, perhaps.

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Stacks of wood from the Rock Island Railroad.

When Sarah Mehan and her family bought some property adjacent to theirs, the parcel included an old barn, now fixed up with new siding.

But the inside was of particular interest.

It was full of old tools, some junk and piles, floor to ceiling, of seasoned wood.

“At first I had no clue,” Sarah tells us. “I just thought, ‘Man. That’s a lot of wood. Like, why is all this here?”

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The Rock Island Line decades ago.

Old railroaders might recognize these planks.

They used to line the floors of boxcars.

Now, this lumber, much of it expensive ash and maple, is too costly for that kind of use.

“It’s amazing,” Mehan continues. “It’s thick, tongue in groove, a lot of it is original oak.”

So what to do?

The Rock Island Line gone for decades, but a piece of its legacy in her hands, the Mehans decided to start letting that legacy go in small parcels to furniture builders and craftsmen, people building their own legacies with another.

“I feel like it’s a barn full of history and family,” she argues.

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The Rock Island Railroad.

Sarah can’t predict how long it might take to empty the barn on her place.

But she’s mindful of the history here, a pile of wood by all appearances, but with a story all its own.

The property was once owned by Bill Thompson, an El Reno businessman who passed away in 2017.

Some of the wood went to another business we featured in 2020, the Budro’s Wood Shop in Marlow, Okla.

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