When Larry Kreyling was 10 years old, he and his brother slept in the attic of their home in Overland, Missouri. Surrounding the boys were ten 4x8-foot train tables constructed by their dad. The boys fell asleep each night as the faint whistle of the engine clambered around the track. As the years clicked off, much like the clicketty-clack of the wheels on the track, the love of railroads flourished.
Today, Kreyling is a Lowcountry retiree and a volunteer with the Charleston Area Model Railroad Club. The Club’s headquarters is in Citadel Mall, just outside the entrance to Dillard’s. Four days a week, the club’s volunteers open the doors to share their knowledge and love of this hobby.
Admittedly, model trains are toys and the majority of those who care about such are older men. I often thought it required a background as an electrician to understand the complexities of keeping all the cars on the track.
What’s the fascination? Why do people spend hours hooking-up the cars and watching the long line of box cars go ‘round and ‘round?
Chip Mack, a former vice president of the club says “... it’s relaxing, and in a world that seems wacky, it’s the one little piece of the world you can control. You’re the engineer.”
As I wandered into the club’s front door recently, I hardly knew where to look. There was activity at three different expansive exhibits. I quickly learned that the three different exhibits showcased examples of the three different sizes of trains and cars. These three sizes are called gauges. The O gauge is the largest, followed by the HO gauge and then the N gauge.
A model train enthusiast deals in one of these gauges.
“Yes, we’re ‘train geeks,’ " says Kevin Avery who prefers the smaller trains because “you can do more with the same amount of space.”
Willard Branch on the other hand, prefers the larger trains and once his children moved out of the house, he converted a 14X14 bedroom into his train room.
The club is open four days a week for people to stop by, ask any questions and see the various exhibits the volunteers have constructed.
When I was there, a boy and his father from Columbia had driven to Charleston specifically to see what the club was doing and to learn more about the various trains on display.
As I watched one of the larger trains weave in and around the tracks, I couldn’t help but notice the signage on some of the boxcars. There were advertisements for Alka-Seltzer, Spearmint gum and Chiclets.
That immediately took me back to a time I barely remember. But it was a trip that provided instant recall.
Some of the engines emit small puffs of smoke. New technology replaces the old pills that were once dropped into the smokestack. These days, six to eight drops of liquid smoke does the trick.
Now boarding on track 9
This coming weekend, the club’s 2019 Spring Train Show takes place at Danny Jones Center in North Charleston. There is a $7 admission for adults, while kids 12 & under are free. There’s also no charge for active military and their families.
The show features different train layouts. For more info, visit www.camrc.club.
The club’s website also tells you the days and hours of operation at their Citadel Mall location, where there is no charge to visit at all.
The freight cars, tankers, and shipping containers along with the engine and caboose are all part of the experience as they wind their way along the track.
There is some concern that this hobby may eventually die and model trains will reach the "end of the line."
This Charleston club is doing its best to prevent that from happening. I watched older volunteers spend time with dads and children they didn’t know, who merely stuck their heads in the door to see what was happening. They provided information and shared tech support along with giving an interested youngster a chance to send that train to its next destination.
Trains still keep this country moving forward. Good on the Charleston Model Railroad Club for its welcoming approach as they openly invite “All Aboard” to share their love of what trains have meant and still mean to this country.
A train evokes a near hypnotic cadence as it moves down the track. In Kreyling’s childhood, it was a lullaby that rocked him to sleep.