By Pete Zamplas-
A year-round attraction for model train enthusiasts chugs along for many others in the upcoming Apple Festival on Labor Day Weekend, near Hendersonville’s Historic Seventh Avenue.
The Historic Hendersonville Railroad Depot at 650 Maple St. is a leading area tourist attraction. Since 1992, it since 1992 has been home to the Apple Valley Model Railroad Club (AVMRC) and its vast operational rail exhibits in and outside the depot. Club members and the City of Hendersonville (which owns it) renovated the 1902 structure, restoring its original colors. It became a state historical landmark in 2000.
The depot is between Maple Street and the tracks, where for decades farmers brought produce to be shipped by rail and tourists and campers came in summers. Free parking is nearby.
Admissions is free to the depot, though organizers note donations of money or scale model railroad equipment are “gratefully accepted” to offset the club’s supply, maintenance and operational expenses.
There is much to behold with over 1800 feet of HO-scaled track and scenic mountain terrain in the depot, in space of 100 feet by 22 feet. A camera engine shows the track ahead, while a camera car shows another angle that people also can monitor.
AVMRC Pres. Larry Morton, 77, has led the club for nine years. He has been an avid model railroader for nearly 70 years — starting when he was eight. He cherished his first Lionel train. Morton grew up in Reading (pronounced “Redding”), Pa. as in “Take a Ride on the Reading” Monopoly game fame. He was a computer technician for 36 years, retiring in 2000, and is among tech-savvy club members.
AVMRC members operate model trains on each track, for onlookers’ pleasure and their own. They can answer questions about model railroading. Trains are rotated in use on AVMRC tracks for a variety. Club members at times run their own trains.
They can get trained monthly in how to replicate prototype operations. The digital command control (DCC) radio system enables the train’s operator/engineer to move about the room, to overcome blind spots along the hilly route.
There are layouts in three rooms in the 117-foot long depot. Each reflects a different era of area trains, in this area. The main rail yard reflects Asheville, and a route from Spartanburg, S.C. to Spencer, N.C. The Hickory yard has the Carolina and Northwestern trains rise to an upper level in what is to be Lenoir and joins with the W.M. Ritter logging rail at Edgemont.
Each layout is extensive in length and detailing of trains, human figures and landscaping with a recent upgrade to buildings more precise for each era.
The new outdoor weatherproofed G-scale track is 60 feet long and 12 feet wide, and has a logging layout. A caboose-mounted, internal drone camera feeds video that can be monitored in the depot. As a bonus, that is an added layer of supervision and security of the grounds.
One of the outdoor G-scale trains, Thomas the Tank Engine, brings the animated locomotive to life. Thomas has a happy face, and emits smiles from children of all ages. His box cars are 17 inches long.
Little Pauline is literally a big attraction in the depot’s entrance room. The seven and a half foot long actual locomotive weighs 950 pounds, is 18 inches wide and is 26 inches tall. It was built in 1910, by a machinist of the Southern Railway System in Meridian, Miss. It ran on steam, now electricity. Its wheels rotate, and lights and sound also still work.
The historic depot opened in 1902, as a larger upgrade to the original train station erected soon after Southern Railway’s broad gauge line reached Hendersonville in 1879 — 140 years ago. The first station was moved to nearby, and was a freight house, AVMRC historians D.W. Walsh and John Pezzano note. As many as seven freight trains a day stopped at the depot, until 2002.
Passenger service ended in 1968. In recent years, the depot has housed meetings of the Historical Seventh Avenue Business District.
Ironically, as steam gains this year for a long-planned greenway project along an old rail route (with tracks removed) connecting Henderson and Transylvania the historic depot remains a salute to yesteryear.
Visitors can enter a Southern Railways caboose, watch videos about trains on a large screen, use a touch-screen to find out about exhibited artifacts, or try their hand at Morse Code.
They deploy a 1920s-era telegraph key and sounder, to make Morse coded messages. Pezzano, a retired electronics engineering, used a basic computer hookup to a monitor screen so participants can see what they create in this Telegraph Challenge — as if playing a video game. Pre-teens are required to have their guardian with them, if using this machine.
A portable 6-by-3-foot train layout is the prize for a drawing, to help raise money for AVMRC expenses.
The depot is open to the public generally on Wednesdays 1-3 p.m. and 10-2 on Saturdays, and will have extended hours during the Apple Festival. For more info, call 595-0446 or check www.avmrc.com.