EASLEY — Train enthusiasts young and old turned up in droves for the 2016 Train Show put on by the Central Railway Model & Historical Association in the Bagwell Gymnasium of the J.B. Red Owens Sports Complex over the weekend.
“We’ve had a great turn out,” said Frances Lee O’Neal, a professional storyteller from Winnsboro who was on hand to greet visitors at the show’s entrance.
“I know some people were worried about holding the show on the Superbowl weekend, but I don’t think that we’re exactly catering to the same crowds here,” she whispered conspiratorially.
This year’s train show consisted of three rooms packed full of model trains, track layouts, vendors, a photo booth and a kids area where the little ones could have a more “hands on” experience.
“I’m glad they have that kids train area,” said Greg Mardley of Easley who was there with his 5-year-old son, Adam. “Adam’s really into trains, but a lot of the stuff in here isn’t for kids. He had an engine in his hands over there at one of the booths and it had a $350 price tag on it. I looked like a hostage negotiator: ‘Put. The. Train. Down … Gently!’ I thought for sure he was going to drop it.”
One of the more interesting — and safe — booths for adults and children alike was the photo booth manned by Clark Gregory of the South Carolina Railway Museum (SCRM). Kids received a snapshot with them sitting in a real rail car known as a “speeder” and parents, if they were so inclined, could glean some history about the SCRM.
According to Gregory, the original Rockton and Rion Railway (now Rockton, Rion and Western Railroad or RR&W) was built in the late 1800’s just over 12 miles West of Rockton. At the time, the rails were used to service the granite quarries at Rion and Anderson which were operated by the Winnsboro Granite Company.
As recently as the 1960’s, the Rockton and Rion was one of the last railroads in the country that was still operating steam engines on a regular basis.
In fact, throughout the month of May, SCRM visitors wanting a more historical experience can take a ride on an old “steamy” as the museum is offering hour long rides throughout the South Carolina countryside.
Along with all things locomotive, Gregory also had a story about the 40 pound contraption that, with its invention, forever changed the way modern trains looked and operated.
The end-of-train device looks a little like a traffic light. It’s tall, yellow and has many sensors and lights on it but essentially it was designed for one purpose: to replace the caboose.
“It’s much cheaper,” said Gregory. “Nowadays, most trains are operated by a two-man crew — both up front. Back then you also had two guys in the back. But all that stuff that used to have to be manually checked and applied, like brakes, can be done with this unit — without the cost of maintaining an entire car.”
But I like the caboose …
“Everybody does,” laughed Gregory. “But times change. You have to keep up.”
For more information on the Central Railway Model & Historical Association Inc., including the upcoming Central Railroad Festival on April 23, visit crmha.org. To check out the South Carolina Railroad Museum, visit scrm.org.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.