Riding the Miniature Rails
Members of the Intracoastal Model Railroad Club aim to keep their hobby alive by sharing it with younger generations.
A 350-square-foot model train layout occupies one room in Don Woodwell’s Calabash home, leaving enough space to control the trains and make necessary adjustments and repairs. Whistles, chirping birds and other familiar noises escape from undisclosed locations. Train tracks wind through mountains and across bridges. A locomotive stops at an oil refinery, coal chute and a town façade with an apartment building, general store, hotel and burlesque theater.
“I did the whole nine yards,” Woodwell says. “That’s what the hobby is about.”
Two other second floor rooms in Woodwell’s home also hold train displays and a workshop.
Except for a few boxes resting against a wall, Woodwell is giving away the elaborate display he’s collected and developed since the mid-1970s.
“I will donate all of this to someone or a group who can bring children into the hobby,” he says, adding that he’s invested about $10,000 in his hobby.
Woodwell and his wife, Doris, are relocating to Indianapolis, Indiana, to be near family. Their new residence isn’t big enough to hold the train layout, but that doesn’t mean he’s giving up on model railroading. If a club is nearby, he’ll join it.
When Woodwell retired as an international business owner and moved from Raleigh to Brunswick County in 2004, he met other model railroading enthusiasts. Tom Anzelone of Carolina Shores, a retired mechanical engineer, was one of them. He remembers Woodwell asking, “How do you start a club?”
In October 2006 Woodwell, Anzelone, Bob McLaughlin and Eric Lindquist formed Intracoastal Model Railroad Club, which acquired a 501(c)3 status in 2018. Woodwell was president of the club until January 2020, when Bill Criss of Ocean Isle Beach, a retired aeronautical and astronautical engineer, took the reins.
“What distinguishes this club is the multi-scale trains,” Criss says.
“We run about seven different gauges,” Woodwell adds.
Anzelone put his HO models aside and began collecting Z gauge. “That’s the smallest one going,” he says.
“He makes layouts in a briefcase and has trains running in it,” adds his wife, Paula. “Engines can fit in a walnut shell.”
Bob McLaughlin of Calabash says he has a 9-foot by 13-foot train table with “lots of stuff.” A retired project coordinator in an engineering department, McLaughlin has S, O and G gauge and can run four trains at one time. “I like getting kids interested to keep the hobby going forward,” he says.
Criss says the hobby has been updated with all the electronics in the last few years. “Electronics give realistic sounds, lights and movement.”
About 40 men comprise IMRRC, although Irene Clark, widow of former club member Eddie Clark, is an honorary member. It’s not that women aren’t invited. Women just don’t seem to be as interested in model railroading as men are, Woodwell says.
The club has opportunities to learn about model railroading through the three shows it holds each year.
The club participates in the Southern Farm Days in March at The Farm & Exhibition Center at the Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina. They feature antique trains with all locomotives and train cars vintage 1910 to 1939.
“All the trains at that show are operating, restored antiques,” Woodwell says. “We take all the antique trains there. No modern stuff.”
The club’s summer show is scheduled for 10 am to 4 pm on July 11 and 12 at the Carolina Shores Property Owners’ Association Clubhouse, 17 Lakeview Court. Woodwell explains that the club will operate nine total layouts in model train scales O, S, HO, N, G, Z and other standard gauges. A unique attraction will be the 12 HO modules members bring because they fit together to form an operating layout, Woodwell says.
Their third show of the year takes place the first two weekends in December at the Grissettown Longwood Fire and Rescue on Longwood Road in Ocean Isle Beach. Since Christmas is the theme, parents bring their children, who are awed by the train displays.
The club participated in the Ocean Isle Museum Christmas tree competition and won for most money received at the exhibit. The tree featured a train running around the branches. A couple bought the tree for $275, which the club members moved to their home and set up.
“I’m the artist,” Woodwell says. “I want to make things as realistic as I can.”
“What I like is the challenge of designing the track to run through a scene that becomes realistic,” Criss says. “Part of the fun is planning something that works, then re-planning it when it doesn’t work.”
Modern Railroader magazine estimates about 500,000 people in North America are involved with model trains and spend more than $500 million a year on the hobby. Interest in model trains escalated when Joshua Lionel Cowen patented his model train brand in 1899, and in 1901 made the first true model railroad using electric power.
Woodwell is looking to Brunswick County Senior Resources, Inc. as a possible beneficiary of his train layout. He envisions a program in which participants are taught all the crafts needed in model railroading. Carpentry, electricity, three-dimensional artwork and the mechanical aspect are some of the skills needed. He wants the younger generation to participate and learn all of these skills. The club members can be consultants.
“It would be intergenerational and then be self-sustaining,” Criss says. “Our theme for this year is to have more involvement with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.”
The club members believe the hobby can catch on with young people.
“There’s something for everybody,” Criss says. “One of the most obvious things that you get out of the club is camaraderie, sharing things.”
Intracoastal Model Railroad Club Summer Show
July 11 & 12, 10 am to 4 pm
Carolina Shores Property Owners’ Association Clubhouse, 17 Lakeview Court, Carolina Shores