Model citizens: Volunteers win award for reviving rail line

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

SUWANEE -- As a child in England during World War II, Norman Allum liked the model train set his father was able to find and set up at home.

As he grew up, girls became a bigger priority, Allum joked, and then school and a career.

"I was only able to start it up again when I retired," said the 75-year-old.

Now, he uses his skills as an electrical engineer to run a model railroad at Vines Gardens, one of 10 volunteers who recently won an award for all the hard work they put into the endeavor.

The volunteers, mostly retired men, say that trains are an enchantment for "young kids and old men."

Lawrence McFall, one of the men who founded the volunteering group in 2002 to revive the abandoned model rail line at the county park, said his love of trains dates back to growing up in between two sets of tracks in northwest Atlanta.

"Today, it's a fascination to see (steam engines)," he said. "It was the mode of transportation before airplanes, buses and diesel (engines). It was the way to travel."

While the Vines Railroad operates every Sunday from May until late September, the volunteers set up another display for the Christmas season. Four engines run at the George Pierce Park Community Center, rigged to chug through a village whenever visitors arrive.

"I don't think delightful describes it. It's way more than that," program supervisor Koren Wheeler said of the display at George Pierce. "Having the Vines model railroad brings holiday joy for all ages, a real treat for the young and the young at heart."

Bob Giselbach, the oldest volunteer at age 77, said his first train trip was in 1953, a troop transport to prepare for deployment to the Korean War.

While he had some other train trips during his military career, his reclaimed love of model engines brought him to finally take a pleasure trip on a locomotive.

Last year, he took an Amtrak train from Atlanta to Seattle, sleeping in his own cabin and enjoying the food in the dining car.

"I know why (I love) model trains," he said. "The human eye loves movement. You get movement. You get color. You get contrast.

"I just love to watch trains run."