Knowledge of trains, model and real, is kept on track

April 22, 1994

When it comes to trains in Mount Airy, Walt Dennison has trackside knowledge of model railroading and local B&O Railroad history.

Mr. Dennison owns Dennison's Trackside Hobbies, a model railroad hobby shop next to the old tracks where North and South Main Streets meet at the Mount Airy Train Station.

Years ago, during his college summers, Mr. Dennison worked on Mount Airy's steel rails as a trackman. And, the railroad had brought Mr. Dennison and his family to Mount Airy when his father became supervisor of maintenance of way for the Old Main Line.

"My father was in charge of charge of all B&O trackage from Relay to Point of Rocks," said Mr. Dennison. "We moved to Mount Airy in 1952. I was in ninth grade."

Although the railroad played an important role in his family's life, Mr. Dennison said his interest in trains blossomed later.

"I never had trains as a child," he said.

Mr. Dennison remembers buying his first model train car kits in Macon, Ga., when he was in the Army. Assembling the kits helped him pass his free time away from home. Years later, Mr. Dennison was married, and had children and a job with Bechtel Corp. before his interest in model railroading was spawned.

"I was thinking one day I'd like to have a hobby store," he said.

In September 1976, Mr. Dennison and his wife, Nina, purchased the Watkins 5 & 10 Cent Store and continued operating it as a variety store. The next year, they opened Dennison's Trackside Hobbies in the lower level of the store, at 2 S. Main St.

As interest in the hobby store grew, it gradually took over the variety store operation. And as interest grew in model railroading, this particular hobby became the store's focus.

Mr. Dennison's interest in B&O history evolved along with his expertise in model railroading. "It was natural to have interest in the real railroad," he said.

Mount Airy has a rich legacy in railroading that can be traced to 1830, Mr. Dennison said. He recommends the book written by Mount Airy resident Herman Beck, "The Mount Airy and B&O Story," to anyone interested in local railroad history.

Mr. Dennison, Mr. Beck and Buck Slayton, a local railroader who builds and operates steam locomotives, will be guest speakers at the final Mount Airy Centennial Lecture and Discussion at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the new Mount Airy Fire Station at 702 N. Main St.

"The B&O Makes the Grade to Mount Airy" will be the main topic at the event, which will be more discussion than lecture," Mr. Dennison said. "My special focus is going to be what approach the B&O took in getting over Parr's Ridge in Mount Airy -- the most formidable obstacle the railroad had to overcome between Baltimore and the Ohio River."

The evening also will feature a trainload of interesting facts about area railroads.

The free event will be in the fire station's lower level meeting room.


Although it will be five months before Mount Airy's centennial parade makes its way down Main Street, the time is near to reserve a premium seat for the show.

Tickets for the gala evening parade Sept. 24 will go on sale at 9 a.m. on May 7 in front of Ben Gue Antiques at 6 N. Main St. The parade, the grand finale to the town's centennial celebrations, is being planned by professional parade coordinator Ralph Devore.

The parade committee has invited 35 high school bands, and a number of color guards and drill teams, said Mr. Gue. There will be spot judging along the route.

"All musical and performing groups will be required to perform from start to finish to be eligible for prizes," he said. "We're going to have the big, major parade floats. They will have moving parts, sound systems and be lighted."

The floats will be 30 feet to 35 feet long, 12 feet to 14 feet wide and 12 feet to 14 feet high. Three floats have been sponsored to date at the cost of $3,000 per float and several groups are considering sponsorship. The floats come complete with costumes; all sponsors have to do is supply riders.

Mr. Gue said 2,311 tickets will be sold for the 7 p.m. parade at $5 each. Tickets are numbered and will correspond with a numbered seat along the lighted downtown business area, from Prospect Road to the old fire station on South Main Street. The parade will last at least two hours and ticket holders will be treated to an hour-long pre-parade show at 6 p.m., said Mr. Gue.

For information, call Mr. Gue at (301) 829-2112.


My husband and I are the ultimate procrastinators. After 24 years and 10 months of marriage, we want to learn to dance before our silver wedding anniversary.

Sherman and Tammy Hill, who teach country dancing for the Mount Airy Recreation Council, may face the challenge of their instructing careers during the spring session of lessons -- us.

When I registered for class, I learned that there was still room for a few more couples.

Classes will be held each Friday evening at the Mount Airy Elementary School cafeteria from 7:30 to 9:45 p.m. The session will be geared for beginners, but dancers of all abilities are welcome. Three weeks will be dedicated to learning the East Coast Swing, followed by three weeks learning the Country Waltz.

The cost is $60 per couple for the six-week session from May 6 to June 10.

No special clothes are required. The usual attire includes jeans and either boots or tennis shoes.

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