Scouts learn about railroad history, safety at N.C. Transportation Museum

Published 12:05 am Sunday, November 15, 2015

By Hugh Fisher

SPENCER — This weekend, the grounds of the N.C. Transportation Museum transformed into a small tent city, with campfire smoke rising and flags flying in the breeze.

Boy Scouts, leaders and volunteers from 37 troops, plus a group from the Young Marines youth organization, took part in the annual Rail Camp on Friday and Saturday.

Over 600 young people took part in educational and fun activities designed to teach about the history and usefulness of railroads, as well as how to remain safe around trains, organizer Lucas Safrit said.

The event draws Scouts from throughout North Carolina as well as surrounding states. “Our award for the furthest traveled troop is the one from Mechanicsville, Va.” Safrit said.

In the spirit of the event, at least one Boy Scout troop – from Bath, N.C. – rode in Friday night on the Amtrak train, Safrit said.

A central part of the event is the opportunity for Boy Scouts to earn the Railroading merit badge.

By the time they finish the weekend, Safrit said, participants will have learned enough about railroad safety, history and operations to complete those requirements.

“They’re learning about the kinds of equipment railroads use,” Safrit said. “Not only that, but there’s some exposure to model railroading. So, this could be the start of a lifelong hobby.”

Other scheduled events included train rides, an evening campfire with skits, a scavenger hunt with clues about exhibits at the museum and a chance for some to operate a handcart on the rails.

“We try to have something new and fun each and every year,” Safrit said.

Taking a break before they headed back to classes, Boy Scouts from Troop 99 out of Washington, N.C., said they were enjoying the experience.

“This is their first exposure to backpack camping,” said Thom Edgerton, assistant scoutmaster.

With guidance from their patrol leader, younger Scouts learned to cook noodle soup and Spam on a camp stove.

The youths attending Rail Camp were divided into groups by organizers, with each group named after a railroad operating in North Carolina.

In addition to their classes, scouts in each group were challenged to learn something about the railway for which their group was named.

Scouts from Troop 63 out of Charlotte started their morning with a tour of the museum and a train ride around the grounds. “It’s good to see them in action,” Assistant Scoutmaster Larry Johnson said.

Taking part in the classes, campfire skits and activities gives the Scouts a chance to learn and meet other boys, Johnson said. “It helps break these boys out of their shell,” he said.

But the chance to see trains up close and in person was probably the most exciting part for many.

One of the Scouts from Troop 63, Ernest Johnson – no relation to Assistant Scoutmaster Larry Johnson — said he liked seeing the railroad cars and the museum exhibits, and really enjoyed getting to learn why trains were important.

“I like how it teaches you new things. I learned how trains transported fabrics, and how the Cone family transported (textiles) all across the country,” Ernest said.

He said he’d liked trains ever since he was little, but seeing them in person was even more fun.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.