Secound Annual Train Show:
Dec 18, 2009: George Dell
A few years ago, George Dell’s daughter took him for a ride on an excursion train.
Dell, of Brookfield, remembered the ride as a couple of miles out, then back, at a top speed of 8 mph. His daughter asked him if the ride was fun.
“Oh, yeah,” Dell recalled his response, the words dripping with sarcasm.
Dell, who will be honored at the Buhl Holiday Train Show Saturday and Sunday at the Buhl Community Recreation Center, Sharon, spent nine years riding the rails in the ’30s and ’40s. From his perch in an open, speeding box car, he watched the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, the dry scrub of Texas and the forests of the Northeast whiz by. An excursion train ride just does not compare.
Now 93, Dell fondly recalls his years as a hobo.
Born in Hollidaysburg, Pa., Dell was the son of a fireman on the Pennsylvania Railroad. His father took him to the station one day when he was a boy and he saw the PRR’s steam engine known as K-4.
“Power. Excitement,” Dell said of what trains have meant to him since that day.
He started drawing the impressive engine, and a lifelong hobby of drawing trains — and planes, boats and many other subjects — was born.
The Depression hit when Dell was in his teens, and his family stood in a soup line, as many others did for food.
The soup was doled out according to the size of the family.
“I figured, if I got out, it would be more for them,” he said.
So, at 17, Dell hopped his first freight.
“Arizona to Maine. Montana to Texas,” he said of the country he traveled.
Dell always carried a lunch box with him because it made him look like a railroad employee. He could walk right past the railroad police and board a train without anyone stopping him, he said.
Oh sure, he got thrown off his share, but never was arrested. He was one of many who traveled by rail — without tickets — at that time.
“You can’t arrest them all,” he said, noting some trains carried 200 freeloaders.
Dell recalled stopping in one town where there were probably 50 hobos but only 10 houses.
He figured there was no way he would find anything to eat and planned to keep going to the next town, but a fellow hobo knew better.
The hobo convinced Dell to come with him, and knocked on a door.
“A woman came to the door, about 75,” Dell said. “He said, ‘Morning ma’am, is your mother home?’ She set us down and gave us something to eat.”
“Psychology,” is how Dell phased his friend’s trickery.
“You’ll do anything to eat,” he said.
Although the country had hit on hard times, Dell said work came easy.
“Every time I came to a town, someone asked, ‘What kind of work do you do?’ You could always find a job.”
He worked for anywhere from $1 to $9 a day.
“Name it and I done it,” he said of jobs. He worked in diners, dug graves, plowed fields by horse and tractor, drove trucks and unloaded train cars. He particularly enjoyed farm work.
“Three meals and a place to stay,” he said, referring to the barn.
On a good day, farm work simply was enjoyable, he said.
“Barefoot, walking behind the plow on a hot day, soft ground. It felt good,” said Dell, who has been married three times and has two children and two grandchildren. “The robins would follow and eat the worms.”
The change to a more traditional way of life came on the spur of a moment.
“Sitting by a water tank and I thought, ‘Am I going to do this the rest of my life?’ I jumped an eastbound and headed home.”
He took a job at a feed mill in Wilmington, Del., later working with Pittsburgh Plate Glass in Newark, N.J., a Ralston Purina plant, and his own home repair business in Georgetown, Texas.
Dell can’t remember all the places he worked, including where he was employed when he moved to the Shenango Valley to marry his second wife, Jessie Heckathorn, whom he met in Texas.
These days, Dell keeps close to trains by drawing them.
He’ll recreate scenes from his hobo days, copy scenes from photographs and make up his own compositions.
He still draws the K-4 that made a strong impression on him all those years ago, and has detailed a steamer coming across the bridge on Water Avenue in Sharon.
An usher at First United Methodist Church, Sharon, Dell showed a drawing of three children sitting on a station platform seeing an engine for the first time.
A Civil War veteran stands in the background.
“People like it because of the flag,” he said of the American flag partially wrapped around a pole.
The three children in another drawing walking up to a track as a train bears down, are in no danger, he said.
“The train is going so slow,” Dell said.
December 19-20 2009: Secound Annual Train Show
Dave Davis and Ken Rogers went to the Director of the Buhl Rececreation Center to ask if they could put on a train show in the their GYM in December due to the fact they have out grew the up stairs. It was the start of a partnership with the Buhl Rececreation Center. It also help to bring people into the center and help them to potentialy get people to signup to be members of the facility.
Organizers say the second-annual Buhl Holiday Train show will be twice the size of last year's successful event.
David Davis, president of the Buhl Model Train Society, said he heads a group of enthusiasts who grew up with toy trains at Christmas time, and their desire is to pass some of that enthusiasm on to kids today.
This years show will feature more than 50 operating model and toy trains, railroad memorabilia, and a display of train pen and ink drawings and door prizes. The Buhl Model Train Society will be honoring George Dell, a local artist, who does pen-and-ink drawings of railroad related scenes. The 93-year-old was once a hobo, traveling around the country on freight trains.
New this year is a childrens story hour where kids can listen to The Polar Express presented by Milton Wilson, childrens librarian at the Community Library of the Shenango Valley in Sharon.
Visitors will also be able to meet retired locomotive engineer John Takoch and retired train conductor Robert Downing, and hear about life on the rails as told from their experience working on the railroad.
Bluegrass music will also be featured at this years event. At 5 p.m. Saturday the banjo duo of Jim Helmetzi and Fred Theisk will be on tap. At 1 p.m. Sunday the Dempseytown Ramblers: will be on hand.
Sean McGill made good use of two of his 10 model train sets on Saturday by setting them up in the gym of the Buhl Community Recreation Center in Sharon for dozens of people to see.
The occasion was the second annual Buhl Holiday Train Show organized by the Buhl Model Train Society.
Sean’s mother, Kelly McGill, said he has been getting a model train set for Christmas every year since he was born.
“I really like trains,” the 11-year-old said.
Sean’s favorite is the ‘Polar Express,’ a set named after a popular children’s book and movie of the same which has a holiday theme.
Both of his displays were set up in circles. The McGills had planned on a more creative layout but found that the club didn’t have enough space for that.
“Normally we have to set these up in the basement,” Mrs. McGill said.
On the other side of the gym, 4-year-old Blake Creed of Masury watched intently as two trains, set up on circular tracks one inside the other, went opposite ways around the tracks.
“His father just went to Afghanistan,” said Jack Creed, Blake’s grandfather. “We’re just trying to keep him and his mother busy.”
One of the more popular displays included several different Fisher-Price train sets that children were able to operate by remote-control.
“I set this up for the kids,” said Jennifer Perry, a member of the train society from Sharon.
Mrs. Perry said that she has five kids, for whom she often buys model trains. Her sister, she said, also has several kids and she also buys them model train sets.
“Between me and my sister, we got enough pieces to put this together,” Mrs. Perry said.
There were about 50 train sets on display Saturday, as well as some model train memorabilia such as a miniature steam engine.
“A lot of us got these when we were little kids and we don’t have a chance to set them up very often,” said David Davis, society president.