Big Bend Model Railroad Association rebounds from pandemic sidetrack

Modelers take meetings virtual to cope with isolation
Posted at 7:02 PM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 20:54:32-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Model railroading is the perfect pandemic hobby to help folks across the big bend manage the pressure. Now that we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, one group is taking what they learned from a club-turned-virtual to attract a new generation of modelers.

“Model railroading is cathartic,” said Andy Zimmerman. He’s president of the Big Bend Model Railroad Association. “We do it for the kids. We do it for the family.”

Their fascination with trains transcends generations. When the pandemic rolled into town, the lockdowns and isolation of the pandemic were nearly the end of the line for the association and its 65 members.

“It can be easy for many people to become depressed,” explained Leslie Spencer with AARP Florida. She’s seen firsthand how hard the pandemic has been on older generations. “Seniors, we’re finding, are particularly vulnerable.”

Recognizing that, Zimmerman innovated and took the association’s meetings virtual. He arranged for guest speakers from model train companies and demos from club members of modeling techniques. “It kept us viable because now we’re generating interest and things they’ve never seen before,” Zimmerman added.

“I’m very grateful that we were able to continue meet via Zoom,” shared Sam Miller. He’s 73 and has a model train layout at his home in Tallahassee.

“Most all of my very close friends I’ve met through model railroading,” Miller added.

Like the tracks carry their trains, technology carried him and countless others toward a sense of normalcy again. “What feels really good is being able to have the friends you like around you again,” Miller shared.

As part of their model railroad rebound, the association is holding its 30th annual show this weekend at the North Florida Fairgrounds. They had to cancel because of the pandemic last year.