Rail Camp draws Boy Scouts

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 5, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
SPENCER — Not only the smoke of locomotives, but the smoke of campfires rose from the North Carolina Transportation Museum’s grounds Saturday morning.
Boy Scouts from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia descended on Spencer for the museum’s annual Rail Camp, which concludes this morning.
Brian Moffitt, education program coordinator for the museum, said that since 1996 the event has continued to grow.
This year, as in several recent years, some troops were turned away from the weekend event.
Some 480 Boy Scouts and adult leaders and volunteers camped in tents around the Barber Junction station house.
During the day Saturday, they worked on the requirements for their Railroading merit badge.
“This is not a merit badge they can go just anywhere to get,” Moffitt said.
And, as an Eagle Scout himself, he knows how to both inform and entertain.
Throughout the station’s roundhouse, guides led the young men among boxcars, locomotives and other historic rolling stock.
“We give them all the information they need to get that badge themselves, and a chance to camp out at this wonderful facility,” Moffitt said.
During his part of the morning’s program, he talked to Scouts about how railroad engineers signal one another.
They learned what the various numbers of blasts on the train’s horn mean, and the meanings of the multicolored lights that guide passenger and freight traffic.
Other topics included railroad safety and how a railroad functions as a business.
In addition, they learned the history of the Spencer railway shops, where steam and diesel locomotives were serviced for decades.
For Troy Hall, a Scout with Troop 531 in Randleman, the visit was more than just a way to earn a badge.
It was also a family history lesson.
His great-great uncle, Lewis Waynick, worked for Southern Railway as an engineer after World War II.
Troy’s father, Todd Hall, accompanied his son’s troop on the trip.
Both enjoyed learning the history of the Spencer shops, which Troy got to visit for the first time.
“It feels really, really cool, like I’m in his footsteps,” Troy said, standing outside the roundhouse.
Other boys said they enjoyed learning some little-known facts about railroading.
“We learned about what kinds of cars do what,” said Aidan Lyons of Troop 167, based at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Charlotte.
His father, Scoutmaster Terry Lyons, said he enjoys Rail Camp because it’s more than just a fun event.
“The whole merit badge program is intended to explore potential career opportunities,” Terry Lyons said.
Though the golden age of the passenger railroad is gone, engineers and mechanics are still in demand for the thousands of freight trains that run every week.
But the sound of the whistles, the chugging of steam locomotives and the chance to ride a real, live train speaks to something even simpler, Lyons said.
“You show me a boy who doesn’t like trains,” he said, a good-natured challenge in his voice as the Boy Scouts around him walked among the towering, historic locomotives.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.