Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 11, 2012

24th annual Railfest a huge hit for train enthusiasts of all ages

BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Hundreds of people streamed into the Bluefield City Auditorium and Herb Sims Youth Center complex Saturday for the first day of the two-day, 24th annual Railfest sponsored by the Pocahontas Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.

“It’s been on our calendar for months and he’s been counting the days,” Colleen Carlson of Christiansburg, Va., said of her 8-year-old son, Daniel Allan. “Now, we’re here.”

Allan watched the S Gauge trains roll around the 26-foot by 56-foot layout with seemingly countless variations — pointing out special aspects as they rounded the curves.

“We had a lot of fun putting this layout together,” Bill Clark of the Carolina Division S Gaugers said. “We got here (on Friday) and worked from about 12:30 to 6:30 p.m. We came back out (Saturday morning) at 7:30 a.m., and had it ready when the show opened at 9 a.m.”

Eight S Gaugers — 2 from the Tidewater Division and 6 from the Carolinas — set up and operated the massive layout that Clark pointed out, “is about the size of a house.” One of the locomotives has an operating camera installed that was feeding video to a television screen as the train rounded the layout, while young people stood on layout-sized steps to activate various attractions around the layout.

“It’s fun watching all the kids go around and push all the buttons,” Clark said. “You’ll see kids of all ages pushing buttons.”

Kelley Massie, one of the Railfest coordinators also pointed out that the event appeals to a wide range of ages. “It spans generations,” he said. “You’ll see everyone from retired railroaders, to current railroaders to model railroading enthusiasts and people who are just curious here.

“We’ve had a huge crowd all morning long,” Massie said. “So far, it looks like we’re ahead of the number of attendees that we had last year when we had 1,423. It’s a good way to meet people who are interested in the same thing you are interested in. Just look at the smiling faces here.”

Dylan Newsome, 9, of Bluefield, Va., was all smiles when he made it through all the train layouts and stopped at the Thomas the Train activities. “It’s fun!” Newsome said. “They have a lot of cool stuff.”

“It brings back great memories,” Tim Probert said as his grandson played with the Thomas the Train display. “My dad bought me a Lionel train set and added to it through the years.” Probert said that his wife is now using the basement for her sewing room, “but I still put a train around the Christmas tree,” he said.

Caden Waddell, 13, of Tazewell, Va., received a train set two years ago from the chapter in recognition of his volunteer work, and asked if he bring a layout this year. However, it wasn’t the train he received from the chapter.

“It is like gold,” he said. “I’m using the track, but I didn’t bring out that train. Maybe I’ll bring it out sometime in the future.” Waddell said he has enjoyed model railroading since he was 4 or 5 years old.

“I’ve been collecting HO trains since I was a kid,” Phil Hancock said. Hancock works in a professional capacity for Amtrak now. “Dad got me started,” he said of his father, Al Hancock.

Mary Harman, her fiancé, Joseph Parks, as well as her mother and father, Patricia and John Harman were all smiles every step of the way as they made the rounds of the show.

“I’m going to enjoy this until I go to work at 2 p.m.,” John Harman said. He’s a locomotive engineer for Norfolk Southern Railway.

The show opens again at 12 noon, and will come to a close at 5 p.m.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com