By Valerie Baldowski
Jack Copeland carefully leaned over the model-train display he was assembling. He gently tested the tiny railroad tracks, then placed a miniature train car on the tracks, and rolled it back and forth.
Across the room, others were in various stages of assembling other model-train scenes, Friday, at the Hampton Train Depot. Copeland and other members of the Middle Georgia Model Railroad Club, of Warner Robins, were in Hampton to set up the large, model-train exhibit.
After all of the displays in the exhibit were assembled, city employees were invited to a reception to view it. It is open to the public, for free, today, from 9 a.m., to 5 p.m.
The exhibit, sponsored by the City of Hampton and the Hampton Downtown Development Authority, is a way to attract visitors to the area, said Hampton Main Street Program Director Candy Franklin.
"It is geared to getting people to come here," said Franklin. "I've had phone calls from a number of people from Griffin, McDonough, [and] Conyers, that are anxious to come and see it."
This year marks the third time the club has set up train displays in the city, and they are back by popular demand, she said. "We had the Trains, Planes and Automobile [program] the past two years, and the group was here, and the people have said to me, 'When are the model trains coming back?'" said Franklin.
Model trains appeal to her, Franklin said, and evoke childhood memories of a shiny, new engine, and all the train cars, on a set of tracks under the tree on Christmas morning. "This is like having Christmas in August," she said.
The Middle Georgia Model Railroad Club travels from venue to venue to set up its train displays, said Club President Ed Lusk. "We are a modular club, and we don't have a fixed layout," said Lusk. "We put this together at the Cherry Blossom Festival, the Georgia State Fair, the Museum of Aviation Planes and Trains, [and] Rock Ranch [a working cattle ranch owned by Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy]."
In addition to its pit stop in Hampton, he said, the club also plans to set up at the Jones County Lions Club Fair this year.
Trains are fascinating for all ages, said Lusk. "I bought this stuff 17 years ago, when my first grandson was 'that big,'" he said, holding his hands a few inches apart. "He would lay on the floor and watch that train."
The appeal of trains is widespread, continued Lusk. "It's just a fixation that people have," he added. "It's a massive piece of moving machinery. It's a fantastic way to see metal in motion."
Club member, Paul Hutchison, was inspecting one of the displays, wearing a specially-designed pair of glasses, fitted with a magnifying glass to help him see the small pieces.
Hutchison said the display, which has about 44 feet of track, took him about 30-to-45 minutes to assemble. The assembly times for the other train displays vary, he said, depending on how much detail is involved, and how many feet of track need to be laid.
"The scale is made up of three modules, and it basically hooks together with small strips of wood," said Hutchison. "Then, there's trailer hitches that connect electrically underneath. It's fairly rapid to set up and get running."