The Hogwarts Express has stopped through Vienna. So has Thomas, the talking train from television. Both trains were model figures that have made past appearances during previous Open Houses of the Northern Virginia Model Railroaders, Inc.
“To get the feeling of magic, you just look at the little ones, glued,” said Doug Kirkpatrick of Falls Church. “They’re the wonderment.”
The Open Houses allow locals to relive the days when live trains rumbled through Vienna, as well as witness the hobby happily pursued by the group's members.
Every Tuesday, up to 70 members of the Model Railroaders make their way to the Vienna railroad station, a former Washington & Old Dominion Railroad depot, to run their model trains through the group’s tracks.
Unlike the model trains set up to go around Christmas trees of past, these trains run on nine tracks on seven different levels. The train conductors, or members, use headphones to avoid collisions, and the tracks take advantage of a digitally-controlled command system, according to member John Bell of Burke.
Between 12 and 22 train lines may operate simultaneously on the group’s nine tracks, which are classified by colors. The tracks themselves and their routes are modeled after the Southern Railroad and the Western North Carolina Division Railroad.
“Operating it is challenging,” Bell said.
Even the towns and countryside that the model trains pass through have their own story: commuters waiting for train, shoppers looking for the perfect gift downtown, and television crews filming a car accident.
While membership is all ages and includes many father-son teams, train enthusiasts never tire from watching their trains disappear through a tunnel and reappear on another level of track at the train depot. Some trains even have noises for the blowing of the horn or the roar of the engine.
Falls Church resident Doug Kirkpatrick not only runs his trains through the tracks, but has built an award-winning model train depot as well. Over a year ago, his model depot won first place in a building contest as well as best-in-show for the mid-Atlantic region of the National Model Railroad Association. The model, a representation of a 1908 North Carolina train station, has gargoyles hand-carved by Kirkpatrick.
“It’s been a lifetime [interest]. I’ve just enjoyed it,” said Kirkpatrick, a model train enthusiast for 35 years.