Monday, May 5, 2008

Railroad Modelers Create ‘Own Little World'

Fairgrounds Show Promotes Hobby and Trains

By Jeff Mellott
HARRISONBURG - Browsing through the displays at the Model Train and Railroading Show on Sunday, Michael Strawderman looked for something that would fit into the project he's working on at home.

Strawderman, 40, is building a scale model railroad community in his basement. The Harrisonburg resident was among the people indulging their hobby at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds.

Different Stage

Strawderman said his interest in railroading took a different turn after working with building miniatures for drama productions.

The drama teacher at Thomas Harrison Middle School began creating a miniature community to compliment his model train track.

The model railroad community is a work in progress, but he has already derived satisfaction from the project that includes buildings with detailed interiors.

"It's fun to have people come over and peer inside the building and see the people in there and the detail," he said.

Fun Outing

Strawderman visited the show, sponsored by the Shenandoah Valley Railroad Club and the local chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society, because it offers a chance to find additions for his model community without driving far from the city.

Strawderman's sons, Andrew, 11, and Benjamin, 8, found lots of items that interested them.

Andrew's modeling interest is a little different than his father's. He focused his attention on the model cars and how different they are from each other.

Benjamin found model layouts the most interesting, including a train that sprouted smoke.

"It's really fun," he said.

Long Run

The club has been running the event for about 20 years, said Jim Suter, 67, who lives just west of Harrisonburg.

A member of the board of directors of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad Club, Suter's interest in railroading is real trains.

The vast majority of people who come are those who want to buy something for their model train layout, said Suter, who is retired from Walker Manufacturing.

"We do the show mostly to promote interest in trains and modeling," he said.

Attendance figures for Sunday's event was not available, but Suter said 48 dealers bought 140 tables for the show.

"We really don't know until the end of the show what affect the price of gasoline had on attendance," Suter said.

Railroad Life

Club member Paul Graham, 72, of Bridgewater, has the same interest in railroading as Suter.

He worked around railroads most of his life beginning in 1956 when he took a job with the old Erie Railroad. He continued to work with the company's successors over 22 years.

Graham then went to work for the federal Interstate Commerce Commission. His job was making sure railroad companies complied with federal regulations.

Standing behind a table covered with train magazines and calendars he was selling, Graham said last year's event drew about 1,000 people, including dealers and about 230 children, who got in free.

"We like to promote the youngsters," he said.

‘Own Little World'

Building scale models is just one of the interests of people who attend the club's meetings, said club president Randall Reichenbach.

Some of them like watching trains and others like riding them, he said.

Reichenbach's interest includes scale models, even though he has never constructed a layout.

But that hasn't stopped the 64-year-old Harrisonburg resident from collecting rolling stock, buildings and other pieces for layouts over the past 40 years.

"I haven't had the time or situation to set up a layout," said Reichenbach, who is in the insurance business.

The layouts provide a chance to "make your own little world," he said.

Personal Touch

The world that Strawderman is creating is full of personal touches.

He paints and personalizes model kits he buys.

The theater in his model community is named after one that he once worked with.

The level of detail for the grocery he is working on includes shopping carts, he said.

Model shows like Sunday's event are places for him to explore. "You never know what is out there," he said.

Contact Jeff Mellott at 574-6290 or