By Lee Ann Sides Garrett
For the Salisbury Post
“Everybody seated. All aboard. Let’s go!”
The conductor’s voice rang out as the caboose train pulled out loaded with passengers at the N.C. Transportation Museum’s 20th Family Rail Days Festival. About 800 people braved the heat on Saturday to enjoy train rides, train-themed music and competitions.
Families and rail enthusiasts had their choice of three trains to ride, including a train made up entirely of cabooses.
The Parade of Power featured engines individually displayed on the roundhouse turntable as onlookers listened to history and facts about each one. Young girls especially liked the Champion, an engine painted purple and yellow.
The event drew rail enthusiasts from all over. John Pjura and Tyler Van Hoy, both of Cedar Grove, and Pjura’s stepson, Eric Lemerise of Waynesville, spent the day attaching cars to an N-scale model train. They were trying to beat a record of 223 cars. Two hundred, twenty-five cars had to make it three times around the track without coming loose.
“We didn’t make it,” Lemerise said. “We had too many cars with different engines not pulling at the same time.”
However, Lemerise added, they will definitely try again.
“It’s in my blood,” he said.
Alex Mayes and Teresa Renner of Fairfax, Va., planned their vacation so their last stop would be the Rail Days Festival. Mayes said they are both “avid railroad enthusiasts.” He and Renner met on a train, dated for 18 years and then married.
Both were taking the Southern Crescent on New Year’s Eve in 1978. Both loved trains even then.
“I was a closet rail enthusiast until I met her,” Mayes recalled. “I didn’t think many people were railway fans until she introduced me to railroad groups with thousands of members.”
They now belong to five different railroad groups and travel together sharing their love of trains, nature and photography.
The museum introduced a new exhibit featuring silver dishes, flatware and china that were part of a collection belonging to Dennis Brosnan Jr., president of Southern Railway in the 1960s. The pieces bore markings of Southern Railway and were designed by silversmiths specifically for the railroad.
Railroad-inspired music played at several places on the yard at various times. The Buckingham Lining Bar Gang sang songs as they demonstrated the old-fashioned way of assembling railroad ties. The sounds of sledgehammers rang out as part of their music.
The event included a chili cook-off featuring members of Piedmont Pepper Pod, a North Carolina chapter of the Chili Appreciation Society International. This was a preliminary event for the world championships.
Cook-off winners were: First place, Bob Johnson, Kernersville; second place, Jean Lundy; third place, Brent Lundy; fourth place, Matt Baldwin; fifth place, Kenny Jones.
Entries included 16 Texas-style chili recipes (no beans) and three freestyle recipes. Jones had to place at least 5th to go on to the world championships.
The train whistle-blowing contest allowed participants to climb into an engine and blow the whistle for prizes. Winners in this contest were 3-year-old Jake Davis, first place in the 7 and under division; Keon Phifer, first place, and Steve Campbell, second place, in the ages 8-13 division; and Shirley Williams, first place, and Glenn Reece, second place, in the adult division.
Judges looked for style, sound and actual signals. Phifer clinched first place by performing an actual signal. Davis, Campbell and Reece are all part of the same family.
Natalie Alford, information and media specialist for the Transportation Museum, said putting on the event took the efforts of the entire staff and every volunteer the museum has. She hopes next year’s event will be even better, she said.
“All the engines pulling trains today were diesel. But the museum is raising money to restore the Spencer 604, a steam engine,” Alford said. “Hopefully, we can have steam back in Spencer next year.”
By Lee Ann Sides Garrett