Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Choo, choo. It’s the time of year for the annual Train Festival at the Bluefield City Auditorium and Herb Sims Youth Center. This year marks the 25th annual event and, as always, hundreds if not a couple thousand of train enthusiasts and curiosity seekers will visit the two-day event.
Now the actual event is not until next weekend, but I’m writing this in advance in order to get the word out so calendars can be marked.
The local railroad historical society does a great job with this show and it’s always a thrill to see Charlie Weatherly, Ben Donavant, Frank Brady, Kelly Massie, Larry Ziegler and other members of the club enthusiastically welcome visitors and man the club’s model, which is always fun to observe.
I guess you could say I’m a train nut. I got my first model at age 3 and while my layout is constantly changing, I love to get away when I have the time and “run the #51” as I call it. That’s what I call my Amtrak consist and that is also the number of “The Cardinal” which runs from New York to Chicago with stops in White Sulphur Springs, Hinton, Charleston and Huntington.
I prefer to model the early diesel days. I like the “Bulldog” E-7, the Alco FPs and FTs and the GP9s as far as motive power. The GP9 for Norfolk and Western is also one of my favorites because that is what I grew up seeing go through Gary and pulling the passenger train we used to ride between Welch and Portsmouth, Ohio, on our way to Columbus to visit relatives. I believe it was named “The Cavalier” or “The Pocahontas.”
As a youngster standing on the platform in Welch I recall the Tuscan red engines, three of them, pulling the red coaches into the station. I thought the GP9s were the biggest machines I had ever seen. Put one of those next to today’s locomotives and they are tiny!
The ride was always exciting as leaving Welch and heading west there were many tunnels and bridges. My dad would take me to the dome car and that was always the highlight of the trip. You could see everything from there.
While I grew up seeing coal drags every day, my favorite trains were always passenger trains. I have model consists from Norfolk & Western, Rio Grande and early Amtrak. I don’t like the new Amtrak, give me the old three-stripe cars. I plan on adding something from the C&O, Pennsylvania and Santa Fe.
A few years ago I was talking to my oldest brother who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. In the background I hear a very loud train horn and I ask if he’s out train watching. Fort Worth is a big BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) hub. His answer was, “No, it’s a new locomotive I just bought.”
The love of trains comes naturally for us Redd boys as our dad worked 37 years for the N&W and I guess you could say the steel wheels are in our blood.
Some people prefer steam engines over diesels, but I have to honestly say the only steam I’ve ever seen has been in museums and video. I hope to see and hopefully ride N&W’s 611 when it is restored in the future and leads steam excursions.
A trip to the Train Festival can take you on a steam excursion, lead you on a long-distance freight haul or take you on a high-speed trip on the newest Amtrak Northeast Corridor electric engine. You can go through many towns, see circuses and fairs and in the past there has even been a replica of the old Bluefield train station that was demolished in the 1970s.
Mark and Randall Woods’ model of the old U.S. Steel cleaning plant in Gary brings back many memories and I am hopeful it will be on display again this year. New and used cars, locomotives, track and accessories can be found as well as all kinds of books, videos, T-shirts and hats.
Model trains are not toys for kids. It is a multi-million dollar industry and yes, kids can enjoy it as well as adults. From Thomas the Tanker for a 3 year old, to a Santa Fe E9 with its “warbonnet” paint scheme for this 49 year old, there is something for everyone in the hobby.
It is something that is admired by young and old, male and female, black and white, Republican and Democrat, Mountaineer and Hokie.
We live in an area where the railroad played a major role in the development and continues to play a role in our everyday lives whether we realize it or not. Without the Norfolk & Western coming to the region in the 1880s, it would have been impossible for the Pocahontas coalfields to move the vast amounts of coal mined here to end-users worldwide.
Today we see double stacks moving through town on the Norfolk-Southern mainline and Bluefield is still an important place in the railway’s operation.
Next weekend take some time to return to your childhood when you were awed by trains and visit the Train Festival. Or, if you’re like me, you don’t have to return to childhood memories, you can enjoy the world of model trains.
Bob Redd is a sports writer for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.