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One Cameron man's lifelong project captures town history in massive replica

Posted at 11:16 AM, Jun 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-29 12:16:58-04

CAMERON, Texas — Since at least the 1960s, Cameron native John Johnson and his late wife Felicia have been creating an exact replica of the city of Cameron during World War II, complete with lighting and working train sets. The Old Town Cameron display at the Milam County Railroad Museum exists as the passion project of one man recapturing his childhood from the 1940s - and the memories of what made Cameron special.

At one corner of the display, which takes up at least the first floor of the old JC Penney building on Main Street, stands a pea-sized clay figure of Johnson's grandfather on the porch of his old house. Streets are filled with shops, schools, and churches, all with their original signs and windows. The county courthouse was built by John and Felicia measuring the real courthouse in person. The clock tower numbers were painted on with the tip of a cat’s whisker.

“He doesn’t know why he started on it," commented Jamie Larson, director of the Milam County Railroad Museum.

Thanks to Larson's love of history and the relationship he formed with Johnson over the years, the lifelong hobby and living history book created by John and Francine is being preserved and prepared for grand public display downtown. It’s already been on display to some capacity over the past six years.

Johnson told KRHD that he’s always loved building model train towns. When it came to building a model that replicated his childhood:

“I loved it and grew up here, and knew everybody, and knew the town," he said. "And the people were good to me. I just wanted to build Cameron.”

It started as just a hobby. But as the growing collection of more and more historic buildings has taken on more space, it’s opened periodically for the public to see. It's already made an impact on the hearts of the community as they remember their town. Larson reflected on a recent showing of the display and recalled one older woman spotting the replica of her dad’s clothing store from her childhood.

“She started telling us all these stories about her dad," Larson said. "... As she was leaving, I said, 'Susie, did you get to touch your daddy’s store as you were looking at it?' She said, no. I said, 'go back and put your hands on it close your eyes and let all those memories just rush back to you.' She did and after a few minutes the tears just started rolling down her face.”

As the railroad museum prepares to move the massive city recreation to its new permanent home at the old juvenile services building, Larson makes repairs and adjustments that Johnson isn’t physically able to make himself anymore. If everything goes as planned, Larson hopes to be up and operational in their new downtown location as soon as this fall.