Issue: December 2004
Hear That Train A Comin'

 

In Reedville, Va., the holiday trains are running through history.

 

     Though plans were on the boards for years, there never was a railroad on Virginia’s Northern Neck near Reedville. Until now, that is.

     Every year at this time, the engineers at the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum put the coals to the model trains that run on hundreds of feet of track past the Taylor-Reed Fish Factory, the Reed & Rice Store, the Wicomico Lighthouse and the Irvington Lumber Company-where two fellows lounge in the sun playing checkers. Sunlight pours through the windows in the museum’s Model Shop and Gallery, lighting up skipjacks and buyboats, draketails and bugeyes as they carve the water on their way to market with a load of oysters, or out to the Bay to work the pound nets.

     “This is our eighth year pulling it together,” says model builder and operating crewmember George Frayne. “We’re modeling the first couple decades of the twentieth century.”

     As explained by Frayne and newspaper clippings framed on the walls, the Northern Neck Railway and Power Company in 1920 proposed a route from Fredericksburg with branch lines to Irvington, White Stone and Reedville. The company tried to sell enough stock to finance the venture (there are framed certificates of the stock on the wall, too), but never sold enough. “So we’ve imagined how it would have looked if they had been able to start it,” Frayne says.

     The model builders have re-created sections of Irvington, White Stone and Heathsville, but the Reedville section is the most detailed, right down to getting the correct angle of the sunlight as it falls across Main Street. Some of the buildings in the towns are modeled after historic photos, since many of the structures are long gone. But of those still standing-like the Reedville Marine Railway and Butlers Boatyard, and the Bailey-Cockrell House-model makers have photo-graphed them, then scaled them approximately one inch to seven feet, “or one to eighty-seven, which is the HO scale in the lexicon of railroaders,” Frayne says. They’ve also scaled local lighthouses and bridges, some still around, some not.

     The detail is elaborate and incredible. Swing bridges creak open and closed, gas lights line the streets, historically accurate Bay-built boats ply the surrounding waters, the shoreline sports a couple of crabs here and there and even a Seagrams VO bottle someone has tossed aside. Everything has been built in the model shop by Frayne and other volunteer model builders. “Our principal interest in doing this is replicating the historic buildings on Main Street in Reedville,” Frayne says. “We want people to understand the architectural history of the buildings in the area, and the trains are here to induce young people to come to the museum.”

      Under constant construction and expansion, the architecture exhibit is open year-round in the Model Shop, but the trains run only from the day after Thanksgiving through the second week of January. The museum is open Friday–Sunday, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Admission is $3, free for kids under 12. Call 804-453-6529, or visit the website at www.rfmuseum.org.