Myriad trains travel through big cities, small towns and over trestles and mountains all over American every day, but some avid rail fans also recreate those scenes in a much smaller form: N-scale models.
Since 2003, some of those fans — the Eastern N Lines Partnership — have gathered in Danville to set their dioramas up, connect them to each other and fill the Pepsi Building at the Crossing at the Dan with an impressive recreation of rail traffic in miniature.
It was all part of the Danville Science Center’s Old 97 Rail Days, held Saturday and Sunday.
The event commemorates on of the worst disasters that had happened in Danville at the time: the 1903 train crash Old 97, which fell off the Stillhouse and killed 11 men and injured six others.
Tiny cows and horses graze in fields, water flows under trestles and tress grow along the routes. The scenery depicted is fairly typical, though there are some humorous touches, such as the little concrete trucks parked at a construction site that, if you look closely, you’ll see are from “Hoffa Concrete.”
There were five groups from the Eastern N Lines Partnership were in Danville for the weekend: New Jersey Southern, Richmond Area N-Trak, Lynchburg Area N-Scalers, North Raleigh Model Railroad Club and the Grand Strand Railroad club from Myrtle Beach, N.C.
John Wallis, of the N. Raleigh Club said his group handled organizing the event this year. He explained that N-trak models are created to international standards that determine the spacing of the tracks and the wiring underneath the displays that operate the trains.
While some members of the clubs walked around talking to guests and keeping an eye on the trains, others sat at computers making sure all the trains were where they were supposed to be, and letting the others know when there was a problem. Sometimes, just like in real life, trains waited patiently on the tracks for another train to get out of the way before it could continue its journey.
Wallis said he has been coming to Old 97 Rail Days since 2003, and the event is looked forward to not just for running the trains, but for the socializing with like-minded modelers.
The group meets are the Pepsi building each year on Friday at about noon to set up, which takes about five hours, Wallis said. Saturday morning, the drapes around the tables go up, and they are ready to show off their intricate creations. The display fills the building with just enough space around for guests to walk around and watch the display.
As elaborate as the displays look, it only takes about 90 minutes to disassemble them all, Wallis said. In most cases, only the trains have to be packed up separately; the other pieces are all permanent parts of the display that is created in sections that can easily be taken apart and transported, he said.
In the lobby of the Danville Science Center sits a diorama of the Old 97 wreck, built by the Lynchburg club. There was also a 1948 Norfolk & Western caboose that lives on the Danville tracks and could be toured Saturday and Sunday.