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Model train club preserves memories of yesteryear

Model trains of the Rappahannock River Railroaders can take one back to a simpler time. Above, a main street scene with a model of Hurd’s Hardware. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

by Tom Chillemi

Once upon a time the train was the focal point of many towns, some of which owed their very existence to the railroad.

The howl of a whistle announced the arrival of the train that was bringing passengers, news, mail and goods that otherwise the townspeople would do without. Time stood still when the whistle blew.

These picturesque train towns are now rare—bypassed by interstate highways—leaving a nostalgic void. However, one can get an idea of what small-town America looked like through the elaborate model train layouts of the Rappahannock River Railroaders (RRR), based in Deltaville.

Trains could take you away from where you were. And now, model trains can transport you back to a time that’s gone forever, explained RRR member Don Burnett. “People can reminisce about the old days.”

Few things can excite children of all ages like a model train. Ask Fred Jones of Hardyville, a retired Henrico County firefighter. He still has the original “027” model steam engine that Santa Claus brought him in 1947 when he was 8 years old. The engine has been totally restored and he runs it on the layout of the RRR.

There are two separate layouts at RRR. One is for the larger “O” gauge, the other is for the smaller “HO” (Half O) gauge. A large “G” gauge train rides on tracks mounted to a shelf on all four walls. G gauge trains are often run through gardens or outside due to their size.

During RRR open houses, a camera is mounted in the overhead train and shows both layouts. “It’s like being in a plane,” said Burnett.

Burnett was a conductor, “the train boss,” on freight trains of Norfolk Western, which later became Norfolk Southern Railroad, and served east of the Mississippi River from Chicago to Florida.

His father worked for Railway Post Office and Burnett went to work with him once when he was about 10 years old. Mail was sorted on the train for delivery to different towns.

Many times the train didn’t stop. A mail sack to be picked up was hung on a “mail crane” next to the track. The train had a hook that snatched it off the hook. At the same time, the mail clerk would kick a sack off the train for delivery. “You had to kick it pretty hard so it wouldn’t fall under the train,” said Burnett, who watched his father do it.

RRR member John Koedel prefers HO gauge that is popular due to its small size because it fits easily in the homes. He enjoys building scale buildings for his layouts and has made a scale model of Hurd’s Hardware, complete with its “True Value” sign.

Some of the buildings in the HO layouts have curtains in the windows, which gives the buildings depth.

Koedel’s layout includes a scratch built model of Lee Paul’s “Deltaville Depot,” a hobby store from which the RRR grew.

Most modelers run trains from the 1950s era, when the fading steam engines were still around as diesel-electric trains were replacing them, said Koedel.

The club has 33 members and is open to new members who appreciate model trains. Most members have trains they bring to the club building to run on the RRR tracks. “It’s a fascinating hobby,” said Burnett.

The RRR meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at 83 Ball Park Road, next to Deltaville Ballpark.

For more information, call Koedel at 776-6168.

posted 12.21.2011

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