The Northwest Georgia Model Railroad Club is proud to continue the toy train tradition begun by longtime LaFayette volunteer Ronald Underwood, and will be manning the train display every evening during the holiday season from December 7 through January 2. The display will be open to the public at no charge every evening during the holiday season between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., with its grand opening coinciding with the start of the city of LaFayette's Amazing Christmas light show on Friday, December 7.
The club, which is looking to revitalize itself and has big hopes for the Depot Park that is in the works as part of the Mars District revitalization project, brought together different skills and items from each member, and even from outside their membership, to make this year’s snowy scene of times gone by a reality.
Through a great collaborative effort sprinkled with a healthy dose of passion for model trains, the club even recruited a non-modeler, Linda Slack, to volunteer her ceramic Christmas village pieces to this year's setup. Steve Arnold, Linda's husband, became involved in the project as well, building and wiring the table on which the train sits. Brian Prather, an avid model train builder himself, donated the use of his personal train, while club president Marjorie Slack designed and coordinated the layout and helped put all the pieces together.
To Prather, the club and its work represents the kind of community involvement he knows a shared hobby or even just a shared project can sponsor.
“The Northwest Georgia Model Railroad Club also sponsored us on the trail grant that we’re working on,” said LaFayette main street director Matthew Williams, referring to the plans for revitalizing and extending the trail currently behind the LaFayette Housing Authority north to Fort Cumming, making multiple small parks along the way. “The caboose and the Pullman car are going to be very near the trail.”
“They're actually going to set up their model trains inside the Pullman car so people can come and see it,” said Williams.
“The DDA owns the outside of the train car, we own the inside,” said Prather. The model railroad club is planning to install professional-grade model displays inside the old train car. The club is currently putting the call out for any and all old photos of the downtown area, as one of the highlights of the inside of the car will be an accurate scaled model of downtown LaFayette at the beginning of the 20 century, complete with railroad and train. Combined with a model of today, Prather believes it will make for a stark contrast.
“Anything on the turn of the century is going to be on this layout,” said Prather. “And then the top layout’s going to be today. And you’ll be able to take the kids through it and say, this is what you had, and this is what you’ve lost.”
The old railroad car will thus serve as a sort of micro-museum, showcasing both the glory days and the retirement of its own place in LaFayette life.
The club hopes that the Christmas village train display and the planned Pullman car museum will not only be entertaining and informative for members of the community, but will encourage those who may be unfamiliar with modeling to look into the hobby, which has fallen by the wayside in the past few decades. For Christmas these days, children no longer ask Santa for the latest model plane kit, but rather, the latest piece of touch-screen technology.
“The hobby’s dying,” said Prather. “This is a hobby that’s not lasting. Go to Walmart now and try to buy a model, or model glue. You won't find it.”
Of course, prices for models aren't what they used to be, either. “The prices are skyrocketing,” he said. “Of course, a 12 year old kid’s not able to run out and buy that stuff, but hopefully we can show them other avenues as a club. You know, come to us and we can help you out and lead you to where this stuff is.”
“We want to have people come forward and say 'We want to be a part of this,'“ he said.
The club, he says, is very inclusive, and will happily introduce any and all interested parties to the joys of scale modeling.
“The best part about any hobby, especially this hobby,” said Slack, “is the people you meet.”
“This (kind of hobby) brings everybody together,” said Prather. “Who cares what your political views are, who cares what ethnicity you are...It is a win-win. There's something for everybody.”
Despite the fact that prices for models keep going up, the club provided the model and the equipment at their own expense, and are presenting it to the public for free.
“People ask us ‘What do you gain out of this?’ and you know what you gain,” said Prather, “you gain a smile.”