By FRANK LEWIS
PDT Staff Writer
For the 28th consecutive year, generations of families will step into a wonderland of trains at the Train Show being staged today and tomorrow at the SOMC Friends Center on 18th Street in Portsmouth.
The event was started by Dick Bonzo and Joe Knapp, and for several years was held at the former McKinley Middle School, before being moved about eight years ago to its current location.
This year’s show will feature about 16 setups. Those trains were being assembled Friday morning, and everyone was busy setting up the tables, the tracks, the trains, the cities, tunnels and trestles.
“We had one fellow who passed away last year, Bob Allen, who was with us for years, but his daughter is setting up his layout,” organizer Mark Harris said. “So they’re going to continue that tradition. It was Bob and my grandpa (Wilfred Sheridan) who got me interested in trains. I always spent a lot of time seeing his trains every year.”
“We’re just setting them up again in honor of him,” said Tracy Stiles, his granddaughter. “And we’re going to continue the tradition.”
Tracy isn’t just celebrating another Christmas season, she is also celebrating home ownership, being the latest owner of a Habitat for Humanity house in New Boston.
“It was very interesting,” Stiles said. “I got a phone call and was asked if I would possibly like to get a house, and I said ‘sure,’ so I did all the paperwork, and I was going to get one of the houses. And I just moved in a week ago today. It’s very nice. My daughter is just starting to walk, and she doesn’t have to worry about going up and down stairs. I’m just very excited. My son loves, I love it, and little (1 year old) Maria loves it.”
Jay Stewart of South Webster was just getting his display assembled, and the train cars were still in their boxes. This is a special year for Jay since he is soon to be off to the U.S. Air Force, where he plans to make a career as a pilot. As a child, Jay took a ride on the Norfolk and Western 611, one of the last excursion runs, and he was hooked. Rail enthusiasts across the United States were saddened, but not surprised, in late 1994 when Norfolk Southern announced an end to its steam and excursion program. One of the key players in that program was the Norfolk and Western Class J locomotive #611, which first rolled out of the Roanoke shops on May 29, 1950.
“We have just been at it for a while,” Stewart said. “I was the one who picked it up and took it to the next level. This is H-O scale. The layout itself is 10 feet by 22 feet. It has three main lines. It’s got bridges, mountains, a canyon, a yard and whatever else you want to add to the equation.”
Aaron Seeley, whose grandfather worked for the Norfolk and Western Railway had a 20-feet by 10-feet O scale layout modeled after an authentic N&W train.
“I use a remote control, and walk around the layout,” Seeley said. “The kids really enjoy it. My daughter is 3, getting ready to turn 4. She absolutely loves it. It’s a lot of father-daughter bonding time.”
Harris said, unlike other years, this year some vendors are going to be selling merchandise, and, as in years past, SOMC will operate a concession stand.
“It’s just a tradition,” Harris said. “I think most adults can remember their first train they got for Christmas, or in my case, my grandpa used to bring some of his stuff out and set it up under the tree. I think that’s why the tradition continues.”
Harris said the Train Show runs from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. today and from noon until 4 p.m. Sunday. The price of admission is $2, with children under 2 admitted free.
The Train Show is a part of the Winter Wonderland at SOMC, and like the other Winter Wonderland events, benefits the SOMC Endowment Fund.
FRANK LEWIS may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at email@example.com.