Charlie Crawford loves model trains.
He walks down the stairs to his basement to become his own conductor and engineer for hours every week.
“When my children were 6 or 7 many years ago, my wife bought a circle of track to place around our Christmas tree. My son liked trains, so my wife suggested we go down to the hobby shop because we’d like to get some more railcars. We both came home with a lot of things. My son eventually outgrew it and I didn’t,” said Crawford, 68, a retired paint store manager from Marietta.
Looking out over his recreation of a rural community in upstate New York’s Adirondack region, Crawford carefully adjusts his fleet of 1927-era New York Central diesel locomotives and rolling stock before powering them up with an intricate remote-control system with railroad-like precision. His modular layout takes up a sizeable portion of his basement, complete with workshop.
“I never had trains as a child,” Crawford said, grinning. “Now, every time my wife complains that I spend too much time down here, I remind her, “You told me to go the hobby shop with our son. Of course, that was 28 years ago.”
When the bells clang and the gates drop at full-size railroad crossings, Crawford admits his heart starts to beat a little faster.
“I really enjoy looking at the locomotives and feeling their power as they go past. I love to feel the ground shake. I learned my grandfather and great-grandfather worked on the railroads, so maybe it’s in my blood,” he said.
Crawford, who relocated 22 years ago to Marietta from New Jersey, is a member of a local train club, where model train hobbyists combine their modular sections to create large layouts. Several years ago, his club set up a 50-foot by 60-foot layout at the Cobb Galleria.
“That was gigantic,” he said.
Crawford said he spends 10 hours a week with his layout, and more during the winter months.
"My winter hibernation will find me down here with my trains, maybe five hours a day,” he said.
With painstaking detail, he recreated scenes of a logging community in New York state, where he spent many years on holiday. His fleet of diesel locomotives are fitted with tiny speakers that sound exactly like the real-life versions.
Peter Youngblood, a fellow model railroad enthusiast in Cobb County, said Crawford is considered a ‘Master Model Railroader’ by the National Model Railroad Association.
“(The organization) has more than 18,000 members nationally, and that takes skill levels and knowledge that’s way above average,” Youngblood said.
“Every so often we’ll get a few guys together for what we call ‘operating sessions’ for hours, making pickups and deliveries with schedules and procedures just like the real railroads. We’re serious about what we do, and everyone has an assigned job as an engineer or conductor,” he said. “Our wives joke that we’re down in the basement ‘playing trains.’ We call them operating sessions, but it is a lot of fun."