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W.Va. contest on track

December 11, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Martinsburg just can't get enough of trains this year.

While the community continues its successful project purchasing and renovating the B&O Roundhouse off East Martin Street, there's also major interest in toy trains.

For the second year in a row, Main Street Martinsburg has kicked off its Model Railroad Showcase Competition.

Through the holiday season, model railroad buffs are competing to see who can come up with the most unique train layout.

They take their challenge seriously.

Steve Neuenhoff said his wife, Pam, worked for about week on their elaborate train display that is currently gracing the window of Rockwell Office Supply on Queen Street.

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The big LGB train rolls through a winter wonderland made up of skiers, snow covered mountains, and train cars hauling marshmallows, Hershey's Kisses, cookies and Tootsie Rolls.

Using sets of piers, Steve Neuenhoff then created several levels to the layout. A trolley car, using a special track that allows it to climb steep inclines, slowly makes its way to the top of the creation, rounding a hill by a ski lodge.

Some of the layouts are very exact, with all the buildings, people and landcapes built to scale.

Neuenhoff lets his imagination set the course, which is illustrated by the light posts he made out of candy canes.

"I like to play," he said.

The layouts are put in display windows of downtown businesses, which agree to participate in the competition, said Lisa Dall'olio, a Martinsburg architect coordinating the contest.

Downtown shoppers can vote for their favorite layout at any of the participating shops. The winner will receive two first-class tickets on a Capital Limited train trip to Chicago, courtesy of Amtrak.

The winner will be announced Dec. 28 at the Caperton Train Station on East Martins Street at 7 p.m.

Voters also have a chance at winning. Their ballots will be used for a drawing for two tickets for a trip on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad.

Trains in the layouts will be operating next Saturday, and the competition runs until Christmas.

There are 13 operation layouts this year, up from the seven that were offered last year, Dall'olio said.

She said furnishing space for the layouts can be an advantage for business owners. As kids and their parents gawk and point at the trains through the store windows, they might see something they want to buy, she said.

Merchants said it's working.

"I really think this is one of the best promotional things the town has done in past years," said Ron Rockwell, who has run Rockwell Office Supply for 50 years. "It causes a lot of people to come downtown who might not otherwise," he said.

Rockwell said the competition reminds him of the time when retailers used to put a lot of time and effort into creating attractive window displays to entice buyers during the Christmas season.

It something that today's younger generation has probably never seen, he said.

"Many of them know nothing but malls. It's what they've been raised with," Rockwell said.

Dall'ollio said she came up with the idea for the competition after she and her husband, Matthew Grove, designed the interior of the recently renovated Caperton Train Station. The revitalization project has sparked renewed interest in Martinsburg's train history.

More than $1 million has been raised to renovate the roundhouse across the tracks from the station.

"You couldn't help but get interested in trains after that. It seems like the obvious next step," Dall'olio said.

Rockwell said there is an excitement among downtown merchants over what the roundhouse can do for downtown Martinsburg.

"I can personally think of nothing with the potential benefits to town that that project has," Rockwell said.

A detailed model of the roundhouse is part of the exhibit, but it is not part of the competition. The Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority had the roundhouse replica created to give people around the community an idea of what the building looked like in its original condition.

The replica, currently on display at the former Schewel store building on Queen Street, will be moved to various areas around the community after the contest, Dall'ollio said.

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