Over a three-day period during the summer of 1975, an event occurred in Archbold that many remember with great fondness.
People came to Archbold from throughout the tristate area to stand in line for as many as six hours, in the heat and rain.
Some estimates say as many as 50,000 visited Archbold, June 13-14-15, 1975.
The American Freedom Train was in Archbold.
The Freedom Train was a revamped steam locomotive pulling 26 cars containing artifacts and memorabilia, from a 1756 edition of Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac” to one of Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hats and a space suit that had been to the moon and back.
Joan Smith, Archbold, was there. At the time, she was pregnant with her youngest son, Justin, who was born two weeks after the Freedom Train visit.
“It was hot, alright, and it definitely rained,” she said.
Joan’s husband, the late Max Smith, was the chairman of a committee formed to attract the train to Archbold, the smallest town on its two-year tour of 138 cities and 48 states.
Max traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby the Freedom Train organizers for an Archbold stop, reportedly calling on them twice a day.
In the end, Freedom Train representatives visited Archbold, inspected the railroad industrial spur, and agreed to come.
Arrangements had to be made with the Penn Central railroad, then the operator of the line, to repair the spur tracks in preparation for the visit.
By the time it was over, more than 36,600 people had gone through the train and its exhibitions.
In spite of the heat and rain, it was the second-highest attendance at a Freedom Train stop.
Fast forward about 39 years, and Todd Schanuth, Irvine, Calif., is in the process of making a documentary about the Freedom Train.
As part of his research, he visited Archbold in 2003 and interviewed Max about the train.
Schanuth invited Joan to a Sept. 12-15 Freedom Train reunion at the Mott’s Military Museum in Groveport, near Columbus.
Reunions are held every other year; the next is in Portland, Ore., in 2016.
Joan attended the event banquet with Justin, who lives in Columbus.
She said many of those at the event were with the train from the beginning.
“They get together, talk about the train, and the different spots they visited.
“And they all remember Archbold,” she said.
“They were amazed at how many people came (to see the train), and how long they stood in line.”
And, she said, they asked about Archbold’s iconic restaurant, Ickey’s.
“Is that place still there that has the (painted) tiles on the ceiling?” a participant asked her.
Aboard the train were newspaper and wire service reporters and television crews.
Articles about the Freedom Train and its visit to Archbold appeared in publications around the nation and around the world, including the New York and Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, China Post… even an English-language newspaper in Venezuela.
Joan said at the reunion, “It was wonderful to see those people, and wonderful to talk about all the good memories they had of Archbold.
“It was just great to see how connected all those people remain after all these years.”