The Sun News

Looking for an early holiday outing? Planes & Trains may be just the (free) ticket

A father holds his son up so that he can better see the train.
A father holds his son up so that he can better see the train.

Who: Carl Blair, president of the Middle Georgia Model Railroad Club

What: Planes & Trains will be held at the Museum of Aviation in the Century of Flight Hangar from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 18-26 (except for Thanksgiving Day).

Cost: Free to the public.

Q: What can people expect to see?

A: We’ve been putting it on for the last nine years and increasing in size every year. This year, we will have about 7,000 square feet of model train tracks in the hangar floor. We have everything from N-gauge, which is about 1-inch width tracks, to G-gauge, which is about 3-inch width tracks. Just to give an example, N-gauge is a ratio of 1:147 for the track to train ratio and the HO-gauge is 1:87. They can also see the planes. The Museum of Aviation will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except for Thanksgiving Day.

Q: Who will this event appeal to?

A: Anyone can come and watch the trains. Sometimes if things are slow, we will let the kids ring the bell or blow the whistle, depending on the situation of how many kids are around. We try to make it as pleasant as possible.

Q: How many trains and modules will you have on display?

A: We have approximately 60 modules in the HO scale alone. We will have three to nine trains running at the same time on the same three HO tracks. In N scale, will have to two to three trains. In the G scale, we will have one train running. We also have an ON-3 gauge (s-scale) in a Christmas layout that has one train running. It is approximately 64 square feet with ceramic houses in a Christmas motif with a train running through it. That is a separate entity by itself, and an airport was just added to it. We also have a Thomas the Train in the HO scale that is set up on two or three 8-foot tables.

Q: What kinds of scenes can attendees expect to see?

A: There’s the Christmas scene and the Thomas the Train setup with all the Thomas the Train characters on Sodor Island. Some of these scenes are like you are riding on a train and looking out the window, and that is what you will see … a golf course, a drive-in theater … each module is an individual story, you might say. One of those scenes includes a circus that is four modules long, which is 16 feet long. It has over 100 elephants and 1,000 little people that have to be set up every time. It also includes all the tents, rides and trains. Other modules represent industries such as strip mines and coal mines. There is also a module that has a John Deere tractor facility on it and a little airport. Four modules are set in the 1900 to 1933 time period. Although some have some modern day stuff from the modern day, there is probably nothing past 2000.

Q: Are there any surprises we can expect to see?

A: We will have a very special O-gauge train. It is Truett Cathy’s personal train that he owned. It’s decked out in the Chick-fil-A colors and theme. This was his personal train. We did an event at Rock Ranch in October and was talking with the ranch manager, and he mentioned that he had Truett’s train set. He brought it out … it was in a plastic tub. It was a beautiful engine … and we asked if we could borrow it and put it on display. We got it back in operating condition; it’s four trains and an engine. It is going to be sitting on a track by itself. It’s the first time we have had our hand on it!

Q: Who else will be on-site?

A: We will have two or three vendors there this year. We have one vendor who puts out all kinds of railroad memorabilia such as books, shirts, hats, keychains, small trains, etc. A man from the Southeastern Railroad Museum brings in real railroad equipment. We will also have a “white elephant” table set up with all kinds of train parts we no longer use for sale to the public. This helps offset the costs a little bit. We also raffle off a complete train set.

Q: Who will be providing the trains and tracks?

A: The Middle Georgia Model Railroad Club members will be doing this. We have 31 members ranging in age from high school to 83 years old.

Q: Where did these trains comes from, and how are they stored?

A: Everything is modular — in sections. We have 60 modules that are 48 by 24 inches. We have several members who have a complete layout, a complete railroad by itself in basements or garages. Most are put in a storage area in Bonaire. They are pulled out for the shows that we attend throughout the year. This one here at the museum is our big one.

Q: How long does it take to set up the exhibits?

A: It takes eight to 12 hours to put it all together with about eight people setting it up.

Q: How long does it take to make a module? How much does it cost?

A: Some of them get pretty expensive, and you spend a lot of time on them. Sometimes it takes a year or more to complete one. You can put the framework together in two to three days, but when you start adding the details, the costs start rising. It’s time consuming. Some of these modules, these guys have been working on them two or three years and are still modifying them. Consequently, you may not see the same thing from year to year at this event because of that. One module can cost several thousand dollars, although you can purchase a train car for $20 to $100, and engines cost anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on the size of the engine and how it is equipped.

Q: How old is the oldest train?

A: These are models. We have one model that is a replica of an 1890 Wood Burner.

Q: How do people get interested in this hobby?

A: We have one individual who has been a member of the club since 1988. Some of the members became interested in childhood, and it just carried over. Others just got interested as adults. Most of us are retired, but this hobby has no age or gender limits. We have two women members. We have one member who used to have a temper problem, so he started working on the little models to control his temper. He got so interested in it, it just bloomed, and it helped him to control his temper. When you have a truck that has 400 pieces to it, you have to have a lot of patience to put it together. That’s how he got started in it.

Q: Can anyone attend your meetings?

A: We have an open meeting on the third Tuesday of each month at IHOP in Warner Robins at 7:30 p.m., so if anyone is interested in getting involved in trains, they are welcome to come.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity.

Compiled by Kimberly Cassel Pritchett