For nearly four years, the Seaside Railroad Club has been like a train without a station. After a 2011 fire destroyed their meeting space and many models stored at the Georgetown Train Station, they still continued serving the community, though without a central location. But the nomadic club is ready for a home, and it’s asking the community for help.
“Maybe someone out there that has a building that would like to donate to a non-profit charity can help us along,” said Doc Dougherty, the club member leading the search for a new home. “I know there’s got to be a vacant building out there.”
The nonprofit’s mission is to preserve and promote the history and hobby of model railroading.
“Right from the get-go, we decided that we wanted to be a club that didn’t just sit around and talk about old trains but actually did something for the community,” member Bill Mixon said.
“We need a place where we can meet, where we can set up some trains, where we can continue our activities of educating the public, of teaching kids how to run trains and things like that,” Mixon said. “It’d be nice if anyone had a storefront or building somewhere around here that they’d let us use, because we don’t have a lot of money. That would be terrific.”
The optimal space would be 1,800 to 2,000 square feet, located near Bethany Beach or Millsboro. Heat, electricity and public restrooms are required.
“We can’t just do this in a barn with a third floor. The public comes in, … and the [electric] trains do better at a constant temperature,” Dougherty explained. Delmar’s club rents the second floor of a church.
Railroad clubs are even good for business. In South Carolina, Dougherty said, shopping malls seek railroad clubs to rent space.
“In Myrtle Beach, right next to Target, there’s a model railroad club, because of the traffic it brings in there. We bring in a lot of kids,” he said.
Kids are absolutely drawn to model railroads, he said.
“They can run their own trolleys. They can hit buttons that make sirens go off or church bells ring. … They stand on a platform, and they run the trains.”
“It’s fun to see a 5- to 10-year-old all of a sudden discover it, get interactive with it and be fascinated by it,” club member Bill Ziegler said in 2013. “To watch a little kid walk around and following it — they will literally start following the train around the layout, weaving in and out of people.”
“If you’ve got a full-scale model, you got to walk it five or six times to see all the detail,” Dougherty said.
“My father started making [model] railroad cars before I was born. I have cars in my display cases older than I am,” Dougherty noted with a laugh. “Most of the other guys are the same history. They got one model train set, and it sticks with them all their lives.”
After the fire, the club couldn’t afford space in the renovated Georgetown Train Station, so the club has roamed around Sussex County, displaying at libraries and fire halls and events such as the this weekend’s Seaford Train Show, on Feb. 28, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., or the Roxana fire hall on May 2.
The club is aiming to raise “public awareness, or we’re looking for donations to help us get a place,” Dougherty said.
Their challenge is which comes first: the chicken or the egg.
“If we had a place, we could have a number of tours annually and make money, but we don’t have the money to get the place,” Dougherty said.
They are also seeking someone who could help with grant-writing for several major prizes for which the club hopes to apply. Anyone interested in helping the club can contact Doc Dougherty at email@example.com or (302) 539-3891. Learn more about the club online at www.delawareseasiderailroadclub.com.