Many of us enjoyed model trains when we were kids. Some of us have carried this forward as a passion into adulthood. Some take it far beyond a mere hobby, devoting huge parts of their lives to this interest.
Then there’s our own Bill Baskerville. As he puts it, he’s not the only train enthusiast at WCBR, but “I’m probably the craziest of the bunch.”
We don’t know about that, but he may be the most eager and willing to share his treasures with everyone else at WCBR.
Bill started out like most people – “with a Lionel train set on a sheet of plywood.” We’re talking standard kids’ toy stuff, those big O-scale cars meant to run around an oval electric track. Things got way more serious over the years – with the much-smaller HO scale and even smaller HOn3 and HOn2 gauges, and other sizes as well, described in terms most of us couldn’t follow. But the main thing was, they were far more detailed and accurate – and of course, expensive – than the old Lionel beginner’s outfit.
However, for Bill, it’s not just about models. He has a lifelong love of, and involvement with, the real thing.
Growing up near Asheville, N.C., “My favorite memory is of our grade-school class taking annual steam locomotive train trips.” But that’s not all. He “would walk the tracks near Asheville, and put rocks and pennies on the tracks,” to see what the locomotives would do to them. “Sometimes,” he adds, sharing something that would likely have turned his parents’ hair gray had they known, he would “hop a train and ride a ways.”
You had to catch them going slow, in the right direction. He offers this advice: “Never hop a train going toward Johnson City.” Now you know.
Real trains were another passion that only grew greater in adulthood.
While he and his brother were hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine, they made a big discovery – the old “two-foot gauge railroads that used to ply the backwoods” in that area. This led to the Wiscasset, Waterville, and Farmington Railway Museum. There, he found a group of enthusiasts who were restoring equipment and rebuilding track on the original roadbed.
He’s been going back “two or three times a year for the last 18 years.” These are not idle vacations. He has been picking up real-life railroad skills. “In the process,” he says proudly, “I have become qualified to operate their trains as a brakeman, conductor, fireman, engineer and, of course, to work as a gandy dancer laying track.”
And how many people today can do all that?
Like a number of residents, Bill had a pretty elaborate HO layout in his old home, but he saw he would need to downsize when he and wife Randy moved to a cottage at WCBR in 2020. He looked upon it as an opportunity. He says he “got rid of a lot of stuff I never would need, bought in the ’70s for like $3.50.” He gave some to family and friends, and donated about $7,000 worth to the Wiscasset, Waterville, and Farmington Railway Museum to sell. “Everybody wins. I get rid of it. They make some money.”
With his collections honed down to the good stuff, he started looking ahead. As he wrote recently in the WCBR “Happenings” newsletter, “Now I have begun building a new one in our second bedroom that my wonderful wife has granted me for that purpose.”
Well, at least he’s done a lot of planning. The new train display isn’t actually up yet. He’s been too busy building and setting other things up for the enjoyment of his neighbors.
First, he took on the pieces of an O-scale Christmas-themed train set that someone had given the healthcare unit. “I got the train, which didn’t work, figured out what was missing and broken, repaired it” and got it up and running”. But with the holidays over, that’s been put away. He then turned to something more elaborate.
Have you seen the vitrine display – that is, the elegant wood and glass case – he has put up near our main lobby? If you’ve only glanced, you’ve seen several shelves of electric train engines and cars and other memorabilia. You have to look closer to see the hard work and devotion Bill has put into it:
You may imagine this took Bill some time. You’d be right. He admits the project was seemingly “never-ending.”
To do it his way, he said, “I had to build three dioramas out of Styrofoam, put faux grass down, put ballast down, build faux stone walls, and set up a railroad crossing sign which actually works.” Then, when he decided the lighting wasn’t right, he went and bought some LED lights and fixed that problem.
But it’s done now, and it’s beautiful, impressive, and informative. And now Bill can get busy building that setup he’s been designing for the cottage. We know that’s really going to be something!