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Trains star at fest

February 10, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

The Union Pacific "Challenger" model train locomotive was about a foot long and its coal tender added another 6 inches, altogether $350 worth of die-cast metal, trim and moving parts.

The brand new train belonged to Art Warnick, 71, of Waynesboro, Pa., but he was hoping to sell it. He billed it as the coolest train he had at Saturday's Train Fest, a toy train and train memorabilia show at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center near Sharpsburg.

The show was expected to make between $1,000 and $1,500 to go toward the refurbishing of Antietam Station in Sharpsburg, said members of the show's sponsor, Hagerstown Model Railroad Museum Inc., which is housed at the station. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

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Antietam Station was built near the turn of the century and serviced the Norfolk and Western Railway, now Norfolk Southern Corp. After the station stopped being used it fell into disrepair, and since the mid-1990s local groups have been trying to fix it up.

Hagerstown Model Railroad Museum, a nonprofit organization, has collected about $100,000 from public and private sources and hopes to get another $25,000, said organization member Jeff Jones.

Saturday's event, which attracted about 300 enthusiasts, was about more than raising money; it was about swapping jokes, having a good time and appreciating the finer things in life.

Warnick and his grandson were running a table full of all sorts of model train pieces and parts. The "Challenger" topped them all.

"It puffs smoke. Has a whistle on it. ... This was the largest steam engine that Union Pacific ran - outside the 'Big Boy,'" Warnick told an interested passerby.

Trains have a forgotten magic, he said.

"Anytime I travel, I travel by train."

Another man came up and asked him if he was collecting memorabilia at the event.

Warnick told the man what he was looking for - a couple of bamboo-chute signals used on the front and back of trains.

"They didn't have walkie-talkies back then," he said.

Then, cutting himself short, Warnick chuckled and said, "I can't drag home anything else, or my wife'd kill me."

His grandson, Ryan Warnick, 13, didn't miss a beat.

"You wouldn't have to tell her about it," he said.

Elsewhere, tables filled the hall at the agriculture center. For $15 a table, hobbyists peddled train parts, photos, shirts, tracks and hats in all sizes.

Jones said collecting trains as a hobby reaches not only all age groups, but all income levels as well. There are as many as 10 types of trains, all of which have different sizes or rail types, are made of different materials and can cost from a few dollars to a few hundred.

"It's nothing for folks to have a $50,000 model railroad investment," Jones said.

"People like this because it reminds them of their childhood in the '40s and '50s" when real trains and toy trains were much more of a way of life, Jones said.

Jones pointed out an "O" gauge model train by the Lionel company. The train was larger and tougher than some of the newer, less expensive plastic models.

"This is the train you stuck under the Christmas tree," he said.

Chuck Sullivan, 30, came from Frederick, Md., to swap some wares. He said his hobby brought out the kid in him.

"You get to play with toys. You don't have to grow up," Sullivan said.

For true youngsters, the day was equally fun. Tom Kersting, 7, was there with his father, Eric Kersting, 43, of Boonsboro. Tom had a shopping bag filled with small boxes containing parts to a new train.

Tom's biggest worry is when the trains go too fast, he said.

"Sometimes they fly off the track. ... It shouldn't happen," he said.

"He yells at me because I take 'em too fast," the elder Kersting said.

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