Retired SHFM director used good storytelling

Claudia Troll-Johnson spent the past 13 years carving out stories of the forest and the sawmill in Long Leaf at the Southern Forest Heritage Museum (SFHM). She is the sixth director of the 57-acre attraction and the only woman.

She retired in August.

The time was ripe for her particular skill set when she arrived in 2007. A 20-year career in education teaching English, art, theater and technology was just what the museum needed as they embarked on new exhibits, or as Troll-Johnson says, “new stories to tell.”

Troll-Johnson grew up in McNary, just a short jaunt from Long Leaf, where her mother was born. Her grandfather was the engineer on the Red River & Gulf No. 106 steam locomotive that sits on the tracks at the museum.

“I remember the smell (of Long Leaf) back then,” said Troll-Johnson, recalling the sappy smell that marked her arrival to Long Leaf when she was a little girl. “I remember the whistle meant something to me.”

The mill’s workday started at 8 a.m., the first whistle of the day; another rang for lunch; and at 5 p.m. the whistle meant her father would be home, even though he didn’t work at the site.

“We lived by the whistle,” she said.

Those who haven’t visited the museum in the past few years will be amazed at the new exhibits in the historic cabins, all fitted with ramps for handicapped access. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) exhibit traces the camps in Louisiana with an interactive exhibit and video about the popular work relief program. The little touches that Troll-Johnson added include the mannequin of the CCC young man sitting on his vintage bunk and the bottled smells of the Thanksgiving meal as outlined on the menu from camp.

“The kids love to try that,” she said.

The bronze statue of the CCC man that once stood on the Interstate 49 Welcome Center also has been moved to the museum.