Rail Days offers food, fun and fire

July 18, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

With a piece of metal in hand and a temperament for high temperatures no matter what the weather, Dave Merceruio is able to forge a connection with the past.

A blacksmith since 1990, Merceruio set up a demonstration Saturday at an original forge in the Frog & Switch Shop of the Martinsburg Roundhouse Center during the sixth annual Roundhouse Rail Days celebration.

Over a 3,000-degree coal fire, Merceruio pounded out rosehead nails, hooks and metal leaves with intricate details.

Often people stopped to watch, asking the temperature of the fire, what he was burning and whether he's ever burned himself. "Of course," Merceruio said.


"(People watch) probably because they haven't seen it," said Merceruio, of Martinsburg, who does custom welding and had several pieces of his work for sale. "It's unique, something that has gone by the wayside."

Elsewhere during the Rail Days celebration, Union and Confederate re-enactors fired blanks at each other across the ruins of the East Roundhouse, which was destroyed by arson in 1990. One teenage girl watching could not contain giggles when a rather large re-enactor fell to the ground and pretended to be dead.

"They got one," another onlooker shouted.

Bill Hayes, executive director of the Roundhouse Authority, said he believes attendance this year will surpass last year's crowd of 4,200. He motioned toward a stage where The Drifters, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, were performing. The group was partly responsible for the large crowd, Hayes said.

Those watching the performance gave the group a standing ovation after the set ended with the song "Under the Boardwalk." The Drifters are scheduled to perform today at noon and 3 p.m.

Activities for children include sand art, face painting and a large inflatable bouncing area. Food is available, along with arts and crafts.

Several people at the celebration carried cameras and took photographs of the buildings.

Last week, the windows and doors in the Bridge & Machine Shop were replaced. Window frames and sills in the Roundhouse have been restored, with glass soon to be installed, said Clarence E. "CEM" Martin, chairman of the Roundhouse Authority.

Walls will be cleaned and painted and the floors will be restored. In October, construction will begin on a pedestrian bridge linking the Caperton Train Station with the Roundhouse Center.

"If people come back next year, and I hope they do, they won't recognize the place," Martin said.

Plans are in place to restore the exterior of a fruit exchange building, a brick building on the edge of the property that slightly resembles a train station.

In the late 1800s and first half of the 1900s, the area was a large apple-producing region, and fruit was shipped by train to other parts of the country, Martin said.

"I have to pinch myself every now and then," when he thinks of progress made since Berkeley County purchased the complex in 1999, Martin said. The buildings, constructed in 1866, likely would have been destroyed had the county not bought them.

For the festival, much of the inside of the Roundhouse was devoted to model train displays.

One section of a display by the Prince William County (Va.) Model Railroad Club slightly resembled the Roundhouse center itself a few years ago, complete with weeds, a boarded-up building and two hobos lounging by a fire.

Walter Neubauer, a member of the club, said model trains allow him to be a kid at heart. He's 72.

"To me it's a great hobby. A good pastime. You can be creative," he said.

Neubauer said he remembers as a child standing on a platform, watching large steam engines pass. Now he works in HO scale, or 1/87th of the actual size.

Model trains that resemble the real ones from just about any era can be purchased. Even graffiti decals are available for those seeking a modern look.

As for setting up a train display in the Roundhouse, Neubauer did not seem overly impressed.

"It's kind of neat," he said. "I wish they had air conditioning."

Rod Hopkinson, with a club titled Train Runners, felt differently. He said the venue was far better than a typical exhibition hall.

"The atmosphere in a building like this, and having the trains go by, I think it's terrific," he said.

Hopkinson said he hopes Roundhouse officials put in a museum, complete with original train-related items.

Future plans for the complex include opening office space and holding events that will not damage the integrity of the buildings, officials have said.

If done right, a restored Roundhouse complex could bring a significant number of people and tourists to Martinsburg, Martin said.

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