AUGUSTA — Jackson Small navigated a diesel train through a downtown cityscape on Saturday, passing police and gas stations and a pawn shop before heading through a tunnel and around again.

OK, so it wasn’t real. The 10-year-old from Cumberland controlled the model train’s speed, whistle and direction with a remote at the Maine3Railers Model Railroad Club’s annual train show at the Elks Lodge.

Jackson said he has been fascinated by trains ever since he was a toddler, and he said he’s the only railroad buff out of his schoolmates. They like video games; he’s “more into hobby stuff.”

“I like to build a lot of stuff at my house,” he said.

The show featured interactive displays that Small and other kids could run, as well as vendors selling antique engines, model cars, powdered turf for railway scenes and rail memorabilia.

The club was founded in the town of China in 1998. Since then, member Tom Hartwell said it’s grown from that core group of approximately 10 people to more than 100 today with members in other states and one Maine native who retired to the Philippines.

Members see model trains as a public service, taking regular trips to visit the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland and patients at VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus.

“We just want to make kids of all ages smile,” said Hartwell, a photographer from Windham. “That’s where I think we take our joy. We like promoting the hobby. We like bringing families together.”

And the hobby indeed seems hereditary. Hartwell is passing trains on to his grandchildren, and Jackson’s father and grandfather are fellow enthusiasts.

Earl and Cindy Pollock of Freeport say their grandchildren love trains as well. They were at the show on Saturday to stock up as they work toward crafting their own layout, which they envision as celebrating Maine’s rail history, featuring sea scenery and the potato fields of Aroostook County.

“There’s just no way to get bored with this hobby,” Earl Pollock said.

Jackson certainly wasn’t bored. At the controls of the train display, he said, “I could do this all day.”

His father, Dan, has fostered it. They’re heading to an upcoming train show in Pennsylvania, and recently they built a scaled-down version of a train engine at their house.

“Seeing the smile on his face makes it all worth it,” the father said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme


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