The Martin and Frances Lehnis Railroad Museum will have a new addition once children with the Model Railroad Camp wrap up their project Friday.
Museum Curator Crystal Stanley said the camp doubled its attendance in its second year of operation and those extra hands will come in handy as the campers wrap up their model railroad, which will remain on display at the museum until auctioned off at a later date.
“We had a couple of repeats, but most of them are new,” Stanley said. “I’m not sure what was the draw this year. I think we had more promoting, which helped us out a lot. Last year, the older kids made small dioramas and this year, I talked to our modeling club and said ‘Hey do you think we can build a fully functioning model as a group in three days?’”
The camp started on Wednesday with children learning the basics of railroad transportation, then applied what they learned Thursday morning when the began laying the foundation of their display.
“[Instructors] had to do a little bit of prep, because we weren’t sure how many we would get, but that’s what they’re doing — building a fully functioning model. It’s 3-foot by 4-foot H.O. scale and I think that’s a good draw because they see how it works in the end,” Stanley said.
While the older attendees development their own miniature train network alongside Brownwood Model Train Club volunteers Dave White, Frank Hilton and Russell Fisher, the younger students toured the museum’s caboose and superintendent’s car from with retired Union Pacific Engineer Jerry Payne teaching them railroad safety and basic functions of the engines and other equipment inside the cars.
“This is my first year and we have an enthusiastic bunch.” White said. “The emphasis has been on the model train, from laying the foam, track, putting down the trees and grass, building the mountains and cutting the stream. You compress everything down in to three hours a day for three days this week. While things were drying yesterday, we went out and road the mini-train, decorated their camp T-shirts and, today, went through the superintendent’s car, the caboose and other real train stuff.”
White said learning model train construction teaches many lessons, but the most important is teaching children how to be creative with their hands. With digital technology dominating the free time of many modern youths, White said it’s important for them to learn how to visualize, plan and implement a plan in the real world.
“In the old days, when I was growing up, you would make things out of foam and whatnot,” White said. “They have been very interested with the model and comparing it to a real train. I have been surprised with the enthusiasm they have. Tomorrow, we’re going to finish the mountain, do the final painting and then hook up the power to the train.”