Meet the Wheelchair Engineers' Train Crew

Bob had a green-felt layout when he was a child and ran a second-hand 1939 Lionel freight train on it until he was a teenager. When he discovered girls, as most teenage boys do inevitably, he packed his train in wooden Cooper Sharp Cheese boxes, and took off in pursuit of his lady love. Later, when he and his wife had children and the children were old enough, he brought out his train and all its accessories again and ran it every Christmas without fail until his children, in turn, made their own discoveries of the opposite sex. Then the train lay, forlorn and forgotten, until the old engineer who had once been a little boy, retired.

After that, with nothing better to do and with all the fires of his youth put out, Bob built a beautiful 10-by-15-foot layout in his basement, ran three trains on it, and installed flashing and banging fiberoptic fireworks over its mountains.

And, somewhere along the way, in 2005, he remembered the child he once was and all the children he had known who were too sick to smile – especially the ones with tickers that didn’t tick - and he began building and running public model-train layouts on Saturdays and Mondays for bright-eyed little children, and adults who wanted to feel young again.

Earl is a master machinist, now retired, and, as a machinist for 43 years, he learned to make everything that can be made out of steel and other metals and to repair everything that is mechanical. Everything we have in our Wheelchair Engineers© and Saturday Trains programs is secondhand. One Lionel crossing gate dates back to 1928, and most of our locomotives are 60 or 70 years old. So Earl’s expertise is a great asset to us. Children run our trains around and around, until the trains wear out, the motor brushes grind down, the transformers fail. Earl is “Mr. Fix-It,” bringing everything back to life again.

He’s been a trainman since he was five years old, fascinated by an American Flyer freight train that his father – a Pennsylvania coal miner – set up on empty dynamite boxes (which the miners called “Dooley boxes”) – and ran and ran around the family Christmas tree. Earl, when he was a teenager with a newspaper route, bought model train accessories with every extra dollar he had. A member of the national Train Collectors Association, he has been buying American Flyer trains all his life, and he still has that first freight train from long ago. He now has more than 40 American Flyer locomotives and more than 200 freight and passenger cars. His wonderfully inventive home layout is more than 50 feet long, can run seven trains at a time, and will be featured in a coming issue of the national model-railroad magazine, S-Gaugian, that specializes in American Flyer subjects. Earl and his wife Gail have two sons and four grandchildren, and he considers them his “best achievement in life.”

Dennis’s interest in model trains began in his childhood when his grandfather bought a Lionel Scout train for Dennis and his sister. Dennis still recalls Christmases past with a train running around the family tree and trips to a department store in a nearby town to see the store’s wonderful model-railroad layout. His best Christmas was the year that his father brought home a set of used switches and an operating milk car. After many years in which his Lionel train sat unheeded in boxes in the basement, Dennis’s interest in electric trains was rekindled by his five children. For more than four years, he and his children have been visiting the Saturday Trains program. His twelve-year-old son, Jacob, in fact, is the Saturday Trains program’s chief engineer. Dennis is actively involved in every aspect of the Saturday Trains operation and an initiator of the Wheelchair Engineers program at the Columbia Mall on Interstate 80 near Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.

Dale is a longtime train collector in central Pennsylvania where he is a supervisor in a cheese factory. He’s been playing and working with model trains for more than 40 years. He remembers his grandfather running Lionel standard-gauge passenger and freight trains at Christmas time, one painted peacock-green and the other light tan. The freight train had gondolas, a tank car, a wrecker and a caboose. As far back as he can remember, Dale played with his grandfather’s trains, learning to set them up and run them. “Running the trains made me feel close to my grandfather,” Dale says. “We had a lot of fun together.” Dale’s father had a standard-gauge train, too, and later a Lionel No. 8 electric that had two passenger cars and looked almost like a trolley. In the 1970s, as he grew, Dale had Lionel and Bachman HO trains. Now, as the father of three children and a grandfather, Dale has become an expert in every aspect of model trains, and – like Bob and Earl – is a member of the national Train Collectors Association.

Andrew is the graphics designer/webmaster for our Wheelchair Engineers website. His interest in railroad trains started in his childhood when he visited his great-grandparents and grandparents, whose home was in front of the huge Enola Railroad Yard near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His great-grandfather had a four-foot by six-foot HO-gauge layout in his sitting room. When Andrew was five years old, his parents bought him his first Lionel train set, and ever since then he has been hooked on trains. Over the years wherever he lived or worked there was a real railroad not far away. Today Andrew enjoys his O-gauge and HO model trains with his three daughters and his wife.

In 2009 Andrew combined his love of photography, graphic design and trains to create the Berwick Railfan Photo Gallery, an online collection of train-related photographs for railroaders, railfans, model railroaders, and anyone else who enjoys trains, at Berwick RailFan Photo Gallery. His photo gallery has a display in the Columbia Mall on Interstate 80 at Exit 232 near Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.

Donald is an operating engineer with 37 years of service in Local 542, I.U.O.E. He has collected model trains since childhood; he still has the pink Lionel train that his father bought him when Donald was nine years old, and that train is now priceless. He collects O-Gauge trains, boxcars, Nabisco, tobacco, beer and whiskey cars and also light-gauge trailer trucks. Donald enjoys traveling by train and believes it’s the best way to see our beautiful country. He has traveled on trains in Arizona, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia and across the nation to Oregon by Amtrak. He likes running our trains and, especially, working with the children who visit our handicapped-accessible layout, Wheelchair Engineers, at the Columbia Mall near Bloomsburg in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, at exit 232 on Interstate 80.

David Greenwald taught at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, for 37 years and is the author of Easy Electronics Projects for Toy Trains, published by Kalmbach Books, which also publishes the magazine Classic Toy Trains. Like many others’, his love of model trains began in childhood; when he was five years old his grandfather bought him his first Lionel Train set. As he neared retirement, he realized that a whole new generation could use electronics to make model railroading more interesting. He was not an “electronics whiz” so he began to teach himself everything he could about that new world. His book has helped readers improve their train layouts by adding, for instance, the sound of ringing warning bells synchronized with the red flashing lights on railroad crossing gates. He has made important improvements to our Saturday Trains and Wheelchair Engineers layouts.

Copyright 2014 Wheelchair Engineers, all rights reserved.