Train project moves middle-schoolers

Pupils discover a creative outlet as they design, create holiday display of toy engines

December 10, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

Taylor Rexroth placed an engine on a track, and Mark Abbey worked the hand controller to take the train on a test run.

The engine chugged about halfway around the track until it ground to a halt while rounding a corner.

"Let me look at it again," Taylor said, as the boys worked to set up the holiday train exhibit.

The 12-year-old pulled the corner of the track apart and snapped the pieces back together. Mark hit the controls again, and this time the train zipped around the entire track.

"First we have to get the trains working correctly, and then we can start decorating," Taylor said. "And it isn't always as simple as it would seem."

The boys are among about 25 pupils who are members of the train club at Southampton Middle School. Started about eight years ago by Glen Porter, a library technician at the school, the club meets in early December to set up holiday train displays in the school's media center.

"I try to give the club members enough knowledge that they can set up a train at home if they choose to," said Porter, who taught at the school for 31 years before becoming a library technician nine years ago. "But mostly I'm a traditionalist, and trains in the school have become a tradition. I'm trying to keep the tradition going."

The club meets before and after school, and the members create three exhibits in the media center that are displayed until Christmas break.

The club's main focus traditionally has been the holiday displays. But Porter hopes the club's activities can be expanded with the launch of an ambitious project: After a five-year, $5,000 fundraising effort, the club began work this year on a 33-foot double train track, made of oak and suspended from the ceiling of the media center.

"We've had trains in the school since it opened about 40 years ago," Porter said. "We've always had children interested in trains. But we wanted to add something new."

Technology teacher Ronald Querns began designing the track last year.

"I think this track will appeal to kids with a lot of different interests," said Querns, a teacher at Southampton for 23 years.

Seventh-grader Tyler Anderson has eight trains at home that he works on with his father. The club gives him a chance to share his hobby and his knowledge with his peers.

"It's fun coming in here and talking to my friends about trains and showing them things my dad and I do at home," the 12-year-old Churchville resident said.

The pupils work with HO-scale trains - the most popular scale model railway - and the larger G-scale trains, a size that is easily handled by children.

"It's so cool to see the trains move crazy around the track," said Mark Abbey, a sixth-grader. "They go forwards and backwards. They are all over the place. You never know where they are going to go."

The suspended exhibit will include two of the G-scale train sets that include a purple engine that was donated to the school. Purple and white are the school's colors.

Porter lets the pupils use a simulation program with which they can create a train garden on the computer.

"I try to make this a learning experience for students who want something to do that isn't academic or athletic, but that they can be a part of and contribute to the school," Porter said.

For Bel Air resident Mark Mahan, it's a chance to do something creative during his free time.

"After I do my schoolwork, I have a lot of free time on my hands," said the 12-year-old seventh grader. "So it's cool to have a club like this where I can come and work on something that I really enjoy."

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