Correction: An earlier version of this story included the incorrect name for Prince William Model Railroad Club member Jim Fletcher. This version has been updated with the correct name.
More than 400 people stopped by the Community Room at the Bull Run Regional Library in Manassas last weekend to see an assortment of model trains chugging through miniature villages, over bridges and past man-made mountains and forests.
Members of the Prince William Model Railroad Club proudly showed off the display, which nearly filled the room. They chatted with visitors and answered their questions about model railroading. The event was one of a series of outreach events the club holds regularly to introduce people to the hobby, club officials said.
Club President Bill Sydow of Triangle said that the outreach events go to the heart of the group’s purpose, which is “to share the joy of model railroading with the public.”
“We love to invite folks to be part of the club,” Sydow said. “Whether it’s running trains, electrician work, carpentry work, [or] building scale structures, there’s a little bit of something for everybody.”
The club has about 35 active members and four junior members, including a 15-year-old girl who became interested in model railroading after attending one of the club’s open houses, Sydow said.
“When I retired, my wife said I needed a hobby,” said Manassas resident Lewis Renninger, who has been a member of the club since 1997.
Renninger, wearing a striped railroad cap and a vest decorated with railroad logos, clearly enjoyed telling children about the trains and letting them press the button that sounded the train’s whistle.
“It’s amazing how much little kids love trains,” he said, watching two boys scramble around the perimeter of the layout to head off one of the trains as it came around the bend.
Club member Jim Fletcher, who described himself as “electronically challenged,” said he is mainly interested in building the dioramas that serve as backdrops for the trains. The South Riding resident told visitors about the techniques he uses to construct the miniature buildings that line the tracks.
The club traces its origins to 1991, when a few people responded to a note in a Manassas hobby shop and began meeting in one another’s homes, according to the club’s Web site. In 1995, the group incorporated and set up its first display at the inaugural Manassas Heritage Railway Festival, which is held annually in June, Sydow said.
A few years later, members began working with the county government, Virginia Railway Express and CSX railroad to get permission to build a permanent display at the Quantico VRE train station, Sydow said. Construction of the display began there in 2005 and took about 18 months to complete.
Parts of the permanent layout are modeled after actual sites in Prince William. The most identifiable of these are a model of downtown Quantico and the Powell’s Creek Bridge in Leesylvania State Park, said Rob McKeever, a club member who lives in Manassas.
The permanent display at the Quantico VRE station is open to the public on first Saturdays, Sydow said.
Next month, it will be open every Saturday through Dec. 20 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., he said.
Sydow said the club also is preparing for its first train show Feb. 28 at the Elks Lodge on Minnieville Road in Dale City. Free and open to the public, it will include displays and clinics.
In addition to the Bull Run l ibrary, the group also sets up weekend displays once a year at the Central Community Library in Manassas and Chinn Park Regional Library in Woodbridge, Sydow said. The next library display will be at Chinn Park during the weekend of Dec. 12 and 13. Sydow said that the Chinn Park library, which attracted more than 800 people last year, usually has the biggest turnout.
The display at the Bull Run l ibrary attracted a mix of children and adults of all ages.
“I think it’s great! I’m excited,” said Rachel Williams, who came with her son Tristin, 5, and her grandparents, Ed and Marianne Hallett, who live in Manassas Park. Williams said she is looking forward to setting up a train set around the Christmas tree this year.
“This is a part of history that we can’t lose,” Williams said, as Hallett pointed out the trains to his great-grandson. “America was built on the railroad, and it is important to pass it down from generation to generation to generation.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.