One local train enthusiast, Bill Watkins, has opened the Waxahachie Central and North Texas Railroad to the public in time for the holiday season.
People of all ages can enjoy the display that mirrors real-life landscapes that Watkins has experienced throughout his journeys.
With 900 feet of track and eight trains running, the room can become quite noisy and smoky from the life-like engines. Watkins created the layout of the structure with a little additional help from a family-friend Jean Dickerson.
As Watkins and Dickerson travel the nation, they grab sediment and other forms of nature to incorporate into their train station world.
“If we are driving down the road and we see something we like, we’ve got a shovel and a plastic bag, and then we figure out how we’ll use it once we get back home,” Watkins explained.
They have accumulated dirt from Colorado, rocks from the Grand Canyon, tree bark from East Texas and Spanish moss from Louisiana. A family member of Dickerson’s even shipped her sand from Hiroshima.
But some of the material comes straight from their backyard, as well, such as small trees are made from weeds that are stained.
Watkins said the goal is to make the landscape look natural.
The multiple levels that the tracks are stand built on only add to the presentation and uniqueness. Watkins said people usually set up train tracks to run on a single level, but in life, trains are moving through and on mountains.
“A lot of people have layouts that are flat and in life, train tracks aren’t flat. I like to create the visions and depth so when we do the changes in elevation and changing the dirt, some of it’s dramatic and some of it’s not.” Watkins said.
The cliffs have been modeled to replicate the mountains in Missouri. What comprised the mountain and most of the land comes from ceiling tile that’s painted and embedded with rocks and dirt.
“I like it when the trains go through the mountains and through the tunnels. I’m contemplating in two years to totally wipe everything out and build it like the mountains west of Denver between Salt Lake City,” Watkins said.
Since Watkins and Dickerson do most of the work themselves and try to purchase trains and figurines from other enthusiasts, they’ve worked with about $30,000 worth of merchandise. But if a commercial builder would have built his display, Watkins said it’d cost closer to $200,000.
One other unique touch is that Watkins makes sure all of the cars light up, bringing more life to the train station town. Watkins said vehicles aren’t produced with lights that turn on, so he takes apart the vehicles and wires circuits through them to make them original.
“All of the busses, cars, and vehicles have tail and head lights. We do that ourselves because nobody makes them like that,” he said.
Between the different scenarios played out throughout the display, patrons could observe a tornado sucking people and different objects up like the movies, a robbery, a motorcycle accident, a campsite, shopping centers and even homeless folks under a bridge.
Dickerson said, “I love working the landscaping, the layout and the creativity of it.”
Watkins said Dickerson is best at finding the little details to add to the scenes – ranging from mailboxes to a dog urinating on a fire hydrant.
"It’s the attention to detail that makes the train station town one of its own. Watkins explained how the locomotives are exact replicas of what he’s seen and heard in life. Getting at eye level with his favorite locomotive," he said, “If you were on the ground looking at a real locomotive, you will see this piping, you would see all of this monkey gear, you’d see all of these rods. This thing is to scale. You’d see the holes in the wheels, you’d see all of these brads holding it together.”
With two trains per track, eight locomotives can be seen at any one time circulating the 24-by-36-foot room. On average, the trains will travel at about 25 to 35 miles per hour.
Meanwhile, the actual speed of a train is usually 50 to 70 mph. Watkins said the trains can travel at 100 mph, but of course that speed is set to scale with the size of the train.
Watkins has had the Waxahachie Central and North Texas Railroad open to the public for about eight years. Each year, he adds something new or remodels the landscape to give it a different look. The display is free to the public, and the room can comfortably accommodate up to 12 people at once. Watkins said people of all ages come to visit the train station from 7 to 70 years old.
He said it’s really neat when a person in their 60s or 70s walk in because the room takes them back in time and “lights a spark in them… in my heart, it’s when the 60 and 75-year-old kids see this, because at some point in time, we all had trains, but it was nothing like this.”
For more information on reserving a time to see the Waxahachie Central and North Texas Railroad, call Watkins at 469-337-9059. His building is located at 4125 FM 813 in Waxahachie.