Railroads explored in open houses in Pa.

December 04, 2000

Railroads explored in open houses in Pa.

By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photos: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

Brady MartinCHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - John Norris breathed a sigh of relief as he narrowly averted a freight train collision by flipping a switch.


Perhaps the near-miss wasn't life-and-death serious, but for Norris and the hundreds of other model train enthusiasts who poured in to see the Cumberland Valley Model Railroad Club's display at an open house Sunday, a train wreck would have been a big disappointment.

Norris, president of the club, and a half-dozen other members manned the elaborate display in their meeting hall, 140 North Third St., Chambersburg, making sure the 11 trains ran smoothly and fielding questions from train-loving adults and children.


Zachary Ackerman and DadThe club will hold two more open houses, on Sunday, Dec. 10, and Sunday, Dec. 17, both from noon to 5 p.m. Train sets and other prizes will be raffled Dec. 17.

The train club is about five years old and took up residence in the former Cumberland Valley Railroad Warehouse about four years ago, Norris said.

The 25 members, mostly men, share a love of trains, Norris said.

"Some like to build scenery, some like to set up the trains and some like to run them," he said.

Different members were responsible for different parts of the of the layout, built in four-foot modules, Norris said.

The club has opened its doors for several years on the three Sundays preceding Christmas for people to enjoy the trains.

Norris estimated that last year an average of 400 people came each day.

One of the club's features is the "advertisement" train, which displays cards from local businesses on each train car for $20.

The club runs the train at any public function, Norris said.

Norris said Franklin County is a hotbed of railroad interest, largely because the railroad was a staple of the region for many years.

His own passion for trains began as a child growing up in an English railroading town.

"I've always liked anything mechanical," he said, scanning the trains and stopping to adjust one whose wheel had run off the track. "They will run for hours and hours and then for no apparent reason a wheel comes off the track."

The display takes up the majority of the basement meeting space and the trains are owned by the members.

There are between 50 and 60 trains, some bearing the name Western Maryland, others Baltimore & Ohio and some the former Penn Central.

"A lot of members have model railroads at home and others have nothing at home because there is not enough space, so they come here," Norris said.

One scene was a replica of the old Chambersburg station on nearby North Third Street.

A picture of the original building accompanies information on the history of the Cumberland Valley Railroad, which originated in 1835 and operated until 1919, when it was absorbed by the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Three stations were built in Chambersburg during that time, including one in 1837 on North Second Street across from what is now the Chambersburg Senior Center, the station on Third Street in 1876 and a final one in 1914 on Penn Craft Avenue.

Bob Banzhof, of Chambersburg, has been a member of the club since it began, but he said he has loved trains since he was a boy.

"It's a good hobby and it's very interesting," he said. "You get to use your imagination when you are constructing scenery."

Banzhof said he comes to the club three or four times a week for about an hour to run the trains or work on scenery or balance tracks.

He said he enjoys the open houses because he gets to exchange information with other railroad hobbyists.

Gordy Schlotter, of Chambersburg, was among the dozens who stopped by Sunday to admire the club's work.

Schlotter, who brought his son, Ben, 8, said, "We both like trains and he now has a train line at home."

"I like to look at the really old ones," Ben said.

Beth Ocker, of Shippensburg, propped 2-year-old Rodney on a stepladder so he could watch the trains chugging by.

"He has some at home and loves to watch them," Ocker said.

While Rodney's eyes widened at a passing train, Ocker whispered, "He's getting a train for Christmas."

The club meets Thursdays at 7 p.m. For more information, call 717-261-1946 or 717-532-8621.

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