ELKHART, Apr 29, 2012 (South Bend Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Ralph Schirling has been interested in trains his entire life. Being a train enthusiast, he said, "is about the camaraderie. We all have similar interests and just want to gather together."
Lucky for him, he gets to work with trains day in and day out as a director of network planning with Union Pacific-Omaha.
He is also one of the directors of the New York Central System Historical Society, which will be playing host to its annual convention next weekend.
"We're trying to pass knowledge between generations (with the Society)," he said.
Through the society, younger train enthusiasts can connect with ex-employees of the New York Central Train system, which merged with another railroad in the late 1960s and ultimately lost to time.
"It was originally formed by employees in the early 1970s," Schirling said. "The employee numbers are starting to wither, but the number of historians and enthusiasts is increasing."
In addition to this weekend's extravaganza, several train-related events are planned for the summer at the National New York Central Railroad Museum in Elkhart, according to museum coordinator Robin Hume.
The Society's convention will take place at Das Essenhaus in Middlebury Friday through May 6, with a day spent at the museum in Elkhart, according to Schirling, one of the two organizers.
"It'll be three days of railroading, railroading and nothing but railroading, so help us," he said.
Saturday will feature a Train Fair at the museum, according to Schirling. The fair will feature trains of all shapes and sizes, from model trains to the large locomotives in the museum.
"It's going to be a family-oriented event," he said. "We're doing more events than just a normal day at the museum."
The event on Saturday is open to the public for $5, but those interested are welcome to register for the entire convention on the society's website, www. nycshs.org. The cost is $189 for nonmembers.
The weekend's activities also include model train layout tours in area homes, presentations by guest speakers and a silent auction.
Following the Historical Society convention, the second annual Model Steam Toy, Engine and Erector Set Show will be held May 11 and 12 at the museum.
Many models will be on display, and there will be a performance from folk singer Bill Isles.
Isles has a long history with trains and railroads, Hume said. His grandfather worked in the train yards in Duluth, Minn., during the Great Depression. His grandfather let the homeless sleep in the roundhouse of the yard at night, going against, company orders.
Isles' song, "Hobos in the Roundhouse," will be among the tunes he performs in the museum's theater, Hume said.
Hume has been the museum coordinator for about a year, she said.
"I love artifacts of all types," she said. "Trains are a part of Elkhart history, and I love it and respect it."
About 850 people stop by the museum each month, she said. Memberships are available, and some members come by weekly to take in the museum's many collections.
"We see a lot of children with grandparents," she said. "It's a good educational tool, and we get them interested in history."
Activities for children at the museum include the chance to lay railroad track and hammer in spikes, like old "gandy dancers," or railroad workers.
Improvements have recently begun on the model train exhibit, Hume said.
"It just keeps growing!" she said about the layout, which now features six trains and many miniature scenes.
Hume said that people have come from all over the country to see the model train exhibit, and the set was recently used in the filming of a series of videos on model trains.
The museum will also have several new exhibits opening soon. A ridable small locomotive will be ready to tow adults and children alike around a track in about six weeks' time, Hume said.
Also opening is an exhibit on the Cardinals' Train, a train that brought the Catholic Church's cardinals across the country in 1926, according to the exhibit.
The train stopped in Elkhart at 6 a.m. June 17, 1926. Residents greeted the train, and one man who was blessed by the cardinals as a child is still alive in Elkhart.
The exhibit will open in the next two to three weeks.
Steve Dinehart, a part-time museum staff member, said he has been interested in trains for more than 63 years.
"My dad got me started," he said while working on the model train exhibit.
The museum brings together many different types of train enthusiasts, from model trains to large locomotives.
"There's just a variety of different people and interests," he said.