Vendors and hobbyists jam the building during Bunker Hill (W.Va.) Train Club Show

April 06, 2013|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Phil Soyring of Brunswick, Md., shows some of the photos he had on display Saturday at the Bunker Hill Train Club Show at the Ranson (W.Va.) Civic Center.
By Richard F. Belisle

RANSON, W.Va. — Older guys talked about their first trains when they were children, often Lionels or lower-cost Marx sets, the engines of which got their power from current through the rails.

Younger guys were showing off technology that has taken over their hobby — wireless engines and equipment run by computers through digital technology.

It didn’t seem to matter much, though, as the estimated 600 hobbyists who jammed the Ranson Civic Center for the Bunker Hill (W.Va.) Train Club Show were enjoying themselves. It was billed as “The Largest in the Tri-State Area.”

Joe Vanorsdale, 45, of Bunker Hill, chairman of the 28-member club, was pleased with the turnout more than two hours into Saturday’s event.

The club’s first show was held 13 years ago in a building in Winchester, Va. It moved next to the Frederick (Md.) Fairgrounds, then to Musselman High School in Inwood, W.Va., and finally, two years ago, to the civic center.

“We keep outgrowing places,” Vanorsdale said.

He said 53 vendors rented the 173 tables the club set up in the cavernous civic center at 431 W. Second Ave. They were selling or trading model-train engines and cars from steam to diesel, landscaping, scenery, buildings, vehicles, human figures, lighting, tracks and equipment to run the layouts.

A couple of vendors specialized in A.C. Gilbert American Flyer trains made between 1946 and 1966, before it was sold to the Lionel company, several hobbyists said.

Jim Patterson, 73, of Martinsburg, W.Va., had lines of American Flyer trains, cars and accessories on his table. He got his first when he was a child in 1947.

“You stick with what you started with,” he said. “Some of us never grow up.”

Other tables held books on railroading, model and real. Other tables were laid out with old photographs of real trains in real situations, many from the steam days.

Phil Soyring of Brunswick, Md., had dozens of photos in albums on his tables.

“I find a lot of them from old dead people and from dealers,” said Soyring, who is a high school physics teacher when he’s not engaged in his hobby. “I buy negatives or slides and do all my own printing. I like the local B&O stuff.”

“I’ve been messing around with trains since I was 10. My mother bought me a used Marx set,” said Jack King, 74, of Hagerstown. He kept the Marx until he was 12, when he replaced it with a used Lionel.

“I sold the Marx to a cousin, but I bought it back when I was in high school and started collecting,” he said. “I still have it. When we were young, everybody had or wished they had a layout. They were made in America, and you could buy one for about $35.”

King said the most inexpensive sets available today cost $300 and they’re made overseas.

As a rule, older Lionel, Marx and American Flyer engines don’t bring much money today, collectors said.

“They’re like coins and stamps. It depends on how many they made and their condition,” King said.

He spends more time on his hobby now that he’s retired

“I recycle old wrecks and sell them at shows,” he said.

Several working layouts were near the back wall.

Members of the Western Maryland Railroad Historic Society of Union Bridge, Md., set one of them up.

Their high-tech, digitally controlled system was wireless, club Chairman Mel Agne said.

“With digital, you have one uninterrupted circuit — track, engines and network,” he said. “It’s easier to lay out because there’s less wiring. Engines do cost more because they’re computerized.”

Agne lamented that young people are not taking up the hobby.

“They don’t want to work with their hands and minds,” he said. “They’re into video and social networking.”

Some of the older guys said the same thing.

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