Freight, passenger or commuter – for train enthusiasts, these vehicles not only provide a unique form of transportation, they also provide hours of entertainment in the form of models as well.
A special group of fans called model railroaders create elaborate train setups – complete with tracks, a miniature train station, towns, buildings, and more – and often run the whole vision in an extra room of their home.
Gene Mangum is one such model railroader. The Fort Bend
resident said his introduction to trains started early.
“I was 10 when I got a train set at Christmas,” he said. “Then I fell away from it; I was into sports and other things. After college, a friend of mine gave me an old model engine, and I loved it.”
Soon his childhood hobby transitioned to an adult hobby.
Setting up his private railroad in a 12-foot by 20-foot loft in his home, he acknowledged there were about three years spent putting together the railroad scene. Hobby shops help with ideas for buildings, trees, shrubs, and of course, tracks.
Drawing up a set of plans, Mangum, a civil engineer, built the benchwork supporting the tracks, plus the foundation and framework. Then he placed the tracks and added various greenery and buildings. He’s had some of his trains since the 1970s.
While the model railroad hobby often starts in childhood, sometimes busy lives can derail the hobby for a while. Magnum has simple advice for someone thinking about jumping back into the world of locomotives and model trains.
“Join the San Jacinto Model Railroad Club. We meet the first Tuesday of every month. You can get all kinds of advice and we welcome new members all the time,” he said. “There’s also monthly clinics about how to assemble certain kinds of buildings or how to wire up your railroad. And there’s a monthly newsletter called The Derail, with helpful information for everybody.”
Long time train fan and main organizer of the Houston Model Train Show is Steve Sandifer, a model railroader. The Fort Bend resident said he received his first train when he was 18 months old.
“And now I’m 70! It’s been in my blood a long time,” he said. “I just always enjoyed trains; I like riding in them, I like photographing them, reading about them – I like modeling them.”
His first train was a Lionel.
“Lionels’ are very tough, they run fast, and they go around tight corners,” he said.
The retired minister said trains bring a community together. Every car has a purpose. He said there are two ways to enjoy the hobby: either as a toy train collector or as a prototype modeler. For collectors, toy trains are not as realistic. Prototype modelers like himself, want the model train to look as real as possible to the actual train.
His time spent with trains changed over the years. There was college, marriage, children; suddenly there wasn’t the space or time for building train models or sets. Not wanting to leave his passion for railcars and rail stations completely behind, Sandifer spent time photographing trains, seeing trains. After his children had grown and moved out, Sandifer restarted his hobby, which also meant making room for the tracks in his home, too.
“I had a room in my house which I added on, so it’s now 14 by 20 with a permanent railroad in there. Currently adding a second layer. One layer is fully scenic; the other is getting started. You have to build a little at a time,” he said.
The San Jacinto Model Railroad Club, sponsors of the Greater Houston Train Show, is the oldest in Houston. It began in 1954.
On Saturday, Feb. 16, the San Jacinto Model Railroad Club will again sponsor the Greater Houston Train Show at the Stafford Centre.
President Bob Barnett said Saturday’s show has between six to eight presentations on railroad history, operations, and modeling. There’s also display tables from railroad museums, the Houston Area Live Steamer and local model railroad clubs.
For more information about the Greater Houston Train Show, visit http://sanjacmodeltrains.org/GHTS.html. For more information about the San Jacinto Model Train Club, visit http://sanjacmodeltrains.org.