The Christmas season in the community is a little brighter thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Fayette County Railroad Preservation Society.
On Thursday morning, president of the group, Martin Rennison, met with the Record-Herald at the train engine in Eyman Park to update the project and explain how they were able to give the display a Christmas decor.
“We had a number of people involved with the Christmas display,” Rennison said. “Myself, Paul Febo, Dean Waddell, Butch Williamson Sr., Rusty Stevens, and some others are involved in the overall train restoration project as time allows.”
Rennison explained that the Fayette County Travel and Tourism Bureau has helped in more ways than one with the overall project. Over the last few years the society has earned grants through Travel and Tourism to paint the engine and other pieces of the display. Utilizing all of its resources, the society has been able to restore a great majority of the historical trains and parts.
“I would like to point out we didn’t know how to get that lettering right (on the side of the tender), and that lettering is now accurate to how it was done,” Rennison said. “Paul Febo researched that lettering and made his own stencils. We have a back-up set and have loaned out a set to a group down in Kentucky. Paul has about 100 hours in making those stencils, that is a real idea of the time it takes.”
The society decided to try and apply to Travel and Tourism to bring a festive display for Christmas, and Rennison said they require some help. Thanks to those funds, Jolinda Van Dyke, executive director at Fayette County Travel and Tourism, said the society bought 1,500 feet of LED lights as well as the various attachments to get the lights working and a large star to set it all off.
“We knew this was lit up back in the early 1990s for about the last time, so you know 25 years ago,” Rennison said. “Online we have a Railroad Preservation Society Facebook page. We have been keeping some updates on there and a year ago people were asking if we could light it up. We didn’t have the funds…we just didn’t have it. Coming out of that from last year we said we had to make it a priority.”
Rennison said the society approached a good friend of his, Brian Crooks, who has experience with seasonal displays. He was the brains behind the project, Rennison said, explaining to the society what to order, how much to order and was even around to guide the instillation of the lights. Rennison said the Santa Claus aboard the train was donated to the society from a family in Cincinnati. He said they follow what the society has been doing and wanted to assist.
“We would like to expand the Christmas display but we are waiting on a bit of feedback from the community about this year,” Rennision said. “At the end of the season we would like to see it grow, we don’t know where it will go, but as long as there are improvements to make we will make them. But we would want some feedback to do that.”
Rennison thanked the City of Washington Court House for its assistance with the project. The city recently updated the site by putting a new fence up and moving the “crossing shanty” (as Rennison calls it) to its current location.
“We mounted that post, it’s a signal post, this year,” Rennison said pointing to the post a large star sits on. “There is going to be a big signal head that will sit on that. We just have to go get the signal light done. Back when everything was manually controlled, a switchman would sit in that shanty. We stripped the siding off of it and while the fence was down we asked the city to move it. So the area is slightly expanded and it has a gravel base down. Number one priority for next year is to get the crossing shanty fixed up, as it was looking bad.”
Local leaders have noticed the work of Rennison and the society and took time to express their pleasure. Earlier this week, commissioner Dan Dean commented on the display saying how nice it looked. Van Dyke encouraged the community to go check it out while the lights were still up and City of Washington Court House Manager Joe Denen was also impressed.
“The long term goal for the society is that the train is open for the public on some sort of basis,” Rennison said. “Citizens can come in and visit. Maybe school trips. But that is our ultimate long term goal, the display is open to the public to learn about its history.”