Monday, May 16, 2011

Chicago: Homewood Railroad Days right on track

SouthtownStar: Homewood Railroad Days right on track
Wind and rain couldn’t derail train enthusiasts from Homewood’s eighth annual Railroad Heritage Days on Saturday.

The chugging of wheels and sound of steam whistles could be heard throughout downtown in celebration of railway history and travel.

This year’s festival paid special tribute to the 75th anniversary of the Green Diamond: the Illinois Central Railroad’s first diesel-powered passenger train.

Event-goers were treated to various model train layouts, railroad memorabilia, slide shows and the show-stopping “Big Mo,” the world’s largest mobile model train railroad. The display included seven popular trains traveling along 400 feet of track through scenery ranging from waterfalls to winter parks, all under a fiber-optic star-studded sky replicating the constellations above the Nevada Desert. The entire layout was controlled by a mother board, the complexities of which evoked the circuitry of a space shuttle.

The attraction was a favorite for Gia Riney, 40, and her son Harrison, 5, who like many youngsters was on tip-toe to look at the design.

“We came out last year, and the kids really liked it. My grandfather was an engineer, so it’s part of the family,” Riney said. More modest model train layouts also proved exciting for attendees, particularly those that were hands-on. Joel Weber, of the ‘S’ Gaugers, whose 1950’s American Flyer model includes all original materials, was happy to allow visitors a feel for the model train experience.

“I brought this model so kids could see just how much fun you can have playing with these trains,” he said.

Sharon Gunderson, along with a handful of members of the Homewood Rail Committee, began the festival to generate an interest and appreciation in railroad history.

“We started out with some exhibits in the firehouse, and it grew from there,” Gunderson said.

The event now has spread to three more sites: the village complex, village auditorium and village hall. “We usually see anywhere from 800 to 1,000 visitors, and I would project that for this year,” Gunderson said. “All of our advertising is done for free. Our budget doesn’t allow for anything more.”

Still, the event continues to remain a favorite in the community.

“It’s been a real success,” Gunderson said.

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