Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 10, 2013

Annual Railfest event observes 25-year mark on a somber note

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Members of the Pocahontas Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society Inc., arose to a shock Saturday morning when they learned that one of the founders of Railfest, Charlie Venable, had passed away.

“Charlie left at about 7 p.m. (Friday night) after we got everything set up,” Ben Donevant said. “I just can’t believe it.”

Venable, 66, of Bluefield was secretary/treasurer of the chapter. “Charlie and I got the idea for Railfest when we were attending a model railroading show in Lynchburg, Va.,” Kelley Massie, president of the chapter said. “Our friend, Jim Revell, owned a model railroad shop in Lynchburg and hosted the model train show there. It was a well-attended show, but most of the people were Jim’s customers.

“Jim told us that we need to do something to reach the kids and the adults,” Massie said. “He also said that we need a venue to talk about trains. He had put the show together in Lynchburg, and we went there for three years.

“In 1989, Paul Cole came to us and asked us to set up a model railroad show as part of the Bluefield Centennial celebration,” Massie said. “We went to Herb Sims and asked if he would care if we had a little show in the youth center, and Herb said all we had to do was come have it. Herb told us we could have it over Veterans’ Day weekend because that was when the Youth Center was available.”

Massie said that he and Venable approached the membership about hosting the show. “Everybody said: ‘Ah ... Sure,’ and so we started working on it,” Massie said. “Our first call was to Jim Revell, and we went on from there. After our first show, the dealers asked us when we were going to have the show again next year. At the time, we hadn’t even thought about having a show on the next year.”

But the chapter did have another show in 1990, and every year after that. The show expanded into the city auditorium in recent years and continues to draw hundreds of visitors to the city. “There are other shows in Galax, Va., Huntington, Raleigh, N.C., Harrisonburg, Va., and Cincinnati, Ohio, but we have grown.”

“Regina Blankenship and her son, Lee Blankenship, 6, of Narrows, Va., were watching the tiny N Scale trains weave through an elaborate layout.

“We have been coming here for three years,” Regina Blankenship said. She added that her son doesn’t have a model railroad yet, “but he has plenty of Thomas tracks,” she said with a smile.

“This is why we do this,” Larry Ziegler, a member of the Pocahontas Chapter NRHS said as he pointed to a young man who was totally captivated by the sight of a Lionel train going round and round a small oval track. “Seeing young people connect with railroading makes it all worthwhile.”

Although the tone of this year’s show was subdued, the chapter presented a plaque to Tom Dixon in recognition of his 25 years of dedication to Railfest. Dixon owns TLC Publications of Lynchburg, Va.

“Charlie (Venable) would have loved seeing this,” James Crawley, a Pocahontas Chapter member said as he watched an HO Scale model locomotive pull a 32-car train around the chapter’s board. “That’s Charlie’s Class A Model 1218 pulling that train. We’ve never tried to pull that many cars before.”

Funeral arrangements for Charles Venable are incomplete and will be announced by Cravens-Shires Funeral Home of Bluewell.

— Contact Bill Archer at