One of my fondest childhood memories still makes me smile, especially when I share it with other people, sometimes strangers, at a model train show. Suddenly we’re friends, and it becomes an “ooh, ooh” moment when their memories of Roadside America come gushing out, a little like the feeling when you watch “A Christmas Story.”
As an elementary age student I lived in Allentown, Pennsylvania, not far from Shartlesville, where Roadside America is located. Every school child in a 40 mile radius was part of an annual field trip to the attraction that proclaimed on its billboards “you have to see it!”
Roadside America was and remains a miniature village depicting small town America decades ago.
As a child walking into the largest room my eyes had ever seen, I was awed and amazed. Before me was a layout of buildings, tiny people, walkways, trains, lots of mechanical stuff and blinking lights. The greatest thing was to walk up the ramp surrounding the layout of parks, town squares, railway stations, tiny shops, tunnels, hills and valleys and push the buttons to make things work.
Amazingly, I don’t recall seeing any adults in the building other than the same older gentleman year after year keeping house. Of course they were there, but I was transfixed by the train layout, wondering who on earth created such a beautiful spectacle.
At Roadside America it was the late Lawrence T. Geiringer. Locally, it is the members of the Middle Georgia Model Railroad Club who are doing the same thing by making memories for children of all ages, during the club’s model train shows throughout the year.
In fact, members of the club have taken a great interest in the train depot property in Warner Robins and are helping to bring new life to the old buildings. Now listed on the Georgia Registry and National Registry of Historic Places, the brick train depot was built to transport troops here for training during World War II.
Today, people visit the location for geo-caching, trading Facebook Rocks (it’s a thing!) and to get visitor information. But thanks to club member Bill Attaway, visitors can also listen on the outside speaker under the depot canopy to the conversation of the railroad engineers as they pass through town at the intersection of Watson Boulevard and Hwy 247. Next door, inside the Elberta Depot, club member Gene Anderson shares the history of Rails to Robins, the story of early rail to Robins Air Force Base. The display was researched and constructed by Anderson himself.
And now, as if a childhood memory has sprung to life, the McCord family in Macon recently donated its own model train and village landscape to the city of Warner Robins. The 4x16 foot tabletop landscape is housed inside the Elberta Depot and will undergo maintenance by the skilled hands of the model train hobbyists before being viewed by the public.
Other club sponsored displays confirmed for 2018 include the eighth annual Trains, Trains, Trains! Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History (Kennesaw), 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m Jan. 21-22; Night at the Museum “Living History,” 6-8 p.m. Feb. 3 at the Museum of Aviation; and the 10th annual Planes & Trains Show, Nov. 17-25 at the Museum of Aviation.
Marsha Priest Buzzell is the executive director of the Warner Robins Convention & Visitors Bureau and may be contacted at 478-922-5100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.