I’ve always enjoyed model trains. It started with the Lionel layout my grandpa set up at Christmas every year. The big engine puffed smoke from the stack, and the detail of these models was amazing. They are heavy, honest toys made with quality — and I still have them.
When the sixth annual Train History Festival came up on my calendar, you know I had to go. The two day event is held at Montgomery Bell State Park Inn and Conference Center, it’s free and open to the public. The event is usually held in the the third week of January at a facility that I had never seen before. I plan to go back, because the food was great and the grounds, complete with a golf course, looked like the perfect vacation spot. The poster promised an opportunity to see model trains, to learn about the history of trains and the impact of the train on our park system. The festival delivered everything as promised.
Model train layouts were a highlight. The meticulous preparation of the model operator and builder is evident. Obviously, they invested countless hours building these scenes and designing a panorama that could communicate their vision. More amazingly, they could be taken apart and transported for such a display. Each builder injects a creativity and personality in their work that is unmistakable. I love model trains. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
Also featured was a stack of historic maps from the Tennessee State Archive. From the early to mid 1800’s you could see the impressive influence the train had on the development of towns, as well as the movement of troops and supplies during the Civil War. You could touch and handle memorabilia from the era and study these maps, but the coolest part was the personal walk through history that Ranger Eric gave me. He described how confederate troops disrupted Union troop movements by destroying track by heating the rail and bending it around a tree to form the “Southern Bow Tie”. I learned about small gauge track that was discovered in state parks, used to move iron and other material, and which has been previously los to history.
The train track was the super highway of it’s era, the arteries of progress and growth in America. Where the track went, prosperity followed. While passenger trains are pretty much “history” today, the freight train still moves an astounding amount of products, materials and resources around the country. The train offers the most fuel efficient form of transportation on land, and connects our ports, states and cities with the world.
The train is not history, it is history, which at the same time plays a critical role in the future. Big trains and model trains still capture the imagination. No wonder a train set is still one of the most popular gift items for birthdays and Christmas.