Keeping model railroading alive in southern Delaware

For most of us the closest we ever got to the world of steam-powered anything were the tourist destinations like the Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania or the Wilmington and Western Railroad here in Delaware. That hasn’t stopped the Delaware Seaside Railroad Club, an all-volunteer group from trying to keep the railroads alive through the hobby of model railroading.

We visited with the club as they prepared for their big yearly train and toy show at the Roxanna firehouse in Frankford, Delaware. It was there that we met with Bill Ziegler, a member of the club.

For hours, this volunteer group hauled in tables and boxes of trains and tools an began to create a world in miniature, a world still ruled by the steam locomotive.

“The club’s goal is to keep the hobby going and also to educate children about model railroading,” Ziegler said. We watched as the group began to assemble the modular layout with almost military precision.

The layout consists of two-foot by four-foot sections. Once those sections, consisting mostly of track are laid out, the dioramas go in. “This theme is trackside America and we have 16 scenes that have a different place in the United States,” Ziegler said.

Along with the backgrounds are lots of little extras just waiting to be discovered. You will find push-buttons along the sides of the displays that operate things like lights, whistles, even a King Kong gracing the top of the Empire State Building in the New York City diorama, complete with a biplane flying around his head.

All of this is sure to delight kids of all ages, but the lesson here is to keep these things alive. Bill says it’s hard to bring the younger generations into the hobby. “It’s difficult to get them from a video game to track and electricity and trains.”

The kids are also not learning some of the little lessons that the hobby has to teach. “They’re not learning the electronics of trains, they’re not learning construction, using their hands and fingers and dexterity and all of that stuff.”

On a positive note, Bill says thanks to Thomas the Tank Engine and all of his friends in Sodor (parents, you know what I’m talking about here), it’s easier to get the kids through the door. The club even had a miniature Sodor setup with a Thomas and James engine the kids could control directly, complete with sounds effects.

For Bill, it was a very personal experience and set of memories that gave him his love of trains. “When I was about six years old or so, I used to walk to the train station with my mother to meet my father who was coming in on a train from the city.” He says that at that time it was still a steam engine and “just the noise and the thunder and the dirt and the soot and all of that was exciting.”

Most of the club members got a train set as kids and perhaps left the hobby as they got older. It was when these kids got into their 30s and 40s, their own children were perhaps getting older that they were looking for a hobby and came back to model railroading.

The club hopes that some percentage of the people that come through to see the trains will leave with a new love for them. Maybe they will be inspired to ask for a train set for their birthday, or holiday. “Or just anytime and than work with it and play with it and enjoy it and add to the people in the hobby,” Ziegler said.

“Hopefully it will keep going for a long time.”

If you couldn’t make it to see the club at the firehouse in Roxanna, you can visit the group’s regular location; their clubhouse is located in Dagsboro, Delaware.

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