Laura Dean Bennett
Bruce Elliott, of Green Bank, has always been fascinated by trains, which may be, as he says, because he grew up a quarter of a mile from the B&O Railroad track in Bethesda, Maryland.
This fixation with trains, their history and model railroading has been his passion for nearly half a century.
“It was in 1958 that my dad, Pella “Pete” Elliott, started building his model railroad, and I was fascinated,” Elliott recalled.
“I remember watching my dad and the big boys build their setups and I always thought, “Hey, that’s looks cool.”
Model railroading has, for many years, been a popular hobby, with clubs in every state in the U.S. and all around the world.
Americans spend more than anyone in the world on their model railroads, with about $800 million a year spent in the U.S. on model trains and accessories.
There are model railroaders in most countries around the world, but Germany, France and England boast the most devotees to the hobby, right behind the U.S., which has the most model railroaders.
He may have started off as a kid who was fascinated with what the “big boys” were doing, but he quickly became a “card carrying” expert in model railroading.
He’s been a member of one model railroad club or another since the late 70s and early 80s when he visited model railroad clubs in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, always looking to learn something new.
And he’s on the Board of Directors of the B&O Railroad Historical Society, having been a member for 35 years.
While most model railroad aficionados keep their train layout in a rec room, basement or garage, Elliott went a step further.
He built his model railroads their own house.
It sits next to the home that he and his wife, Nina, share.
“When I was just starting to learn about it, I saw how each modeler concentrated on getting everything accurate and rendered in great detail,” Elliott said.
“A lot of thought goes into it, and a lot of imagination, but mostly, a lot of patience is what’s required to be a model railroader.”
He explained that model railroading is about selective compressioning.
“It’s compressing a scene into the space that you have in which to accommodate it.”
And it’s about history – model railroaders build scenes that reflect trains in environments and situations from the 1800s through the 20th century.
Elliot takes the historical accuracy and every detail of the equipment and scenery very seriously, but “more than anything, it’s just about having fun.”
“It’s a hobby that’s relaxing,” he said. “It’s a good way to unwind.”
When asked how he came to be living here in Pocahontas County, Elliott explained that he began to visit here when he was a kid.
“My dad and mom started bringing the family to Cass to see the train in 1964 – the year after Cass became a state park and the train was re-activated and repurposed from a logging train to a tourist train,” he recalled.
“We loved it here.”
Elliott had a 28-year career as a diesel mechanic with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and when he retired in 2003, he and Nina found a home in Green Bank.
It wasn’t long before Elliott found his model railroading skills in demand in Cass, where there was a model railroad in need of some serious repair and a new vision.
The model of the Cass train which was originally built in 1986 by Ned Myers had gone into disrepair after he sold it to the state sometime about 2001.
It had been built to illustrate the history of the Cass train and the logging town that grew up beside its tracks.
“I was hired by then Cass superintendent Dave Caplinger to restore the model railroad showcase,” Elliott said.
“He wanted the showcase to be historically accurate and represent the town and the rail yard in the 1930s, which was the heyday of logging in Cass.”
Elliott dived into the project, and the result reflected the historical research he put into meticulously rebuilding the model of the train and the town.
Elliott has apparently passed down his passion for trains to his 33-year-old daughter, Amanda Elliott, who has been a brakeman on the Cass train for the past 17 years.
Amanda used to love to visit her dad and watch him work on the showcase model when she was little.
“Amanda wanted to be near me because I was working on the showcase,” he said.
“I would have loved to be working on the real train, but I couldn’t. I’d been assigned to rebuild the showcase model, but Amanda did get to work on the real train.”
Amanda has also been a commentator – a tour guide riding on the train, providing information to the passengers – since 2005.
He may enjoy building models, but Elliott loves riding on the real thing, too.
Elliott started riding Amtrack trains “when Amtrak started up” in 1971.
Luckily for Elliott, his wife also likes trains.
Nina appreciates what Elliott laughingly calls “the old man’s hobby,” but she likes real trains more than the models.
“Of course, we’ve ridden the Cass train numerous times and all the other local trains,” Elliott said.
“I guess we’ve ridden every train within a 200-mile radius of us.”
In October, he and Nina rode the Potomac Eagle from Romney to Petersburg and back – a 72-mile round trip.
“That was especially fun for me because it was on old B&O trackage,” Elliott explained.
“It’s called the Potomac Eagle because there are so many Bald Eagle nests along the track. You can see them flying around and in and out of their nests all around there.”
The couple will mark their 35th wedding anniversary in the spring, and you’ll never guess what they’re doing to celebrate – that’s right – they’re taking a train trip, and it was Nina’s idea.
They’re looking forward to an 11-day, first-class, sleeper-car trip all around the United States on Amtrack.
The trip will begin in White Sulphur Springs where they will board the Amtrack Cardinal and ride it to Washington D.C.
There they will have a night’s layover before they board the Night Owl to Boston and from there, there will be trains to Chicago, to Seattle, Los Angeles, New Orleans, then back to Charlottesville and, finally, home to White Sulphur Springs.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” Elliott said, with a smile.
Elliott has established the Pocahontas County Society of Model Engineers and his amazing model railroad – The Piedmont Division of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad – is ready to be enjoyed by visitors.
For the past six years, Elliott has been building his historically accurate labor of love.
It’s taken a lot of research and painstaking work to bring the project to this point – “and it will always be a work in progress,” Elliott stresses.
The Piedmont Division represents five locations of the railroad as they would have appeared from 1950 to 1955.
There are towns recreated along the tracks – Somerset and Garrett, Pennsylvania, Point of Rocks, Maryland, Fairmont and Patterson Creek, West Virginia.
“This is history in 3D,” he added.
Anyone interested in viewing Elliott’s grand railroad layout is welcome.
The Piedmont Division of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad is located about nine miles from Cass at 808 North Fork Loop in Green Bank.
Plan to visit Monday through Saturday during the hours of noon to 5 p.m.
The phone number is 304-456-5389.
Please call in advance to be sure Elliot will be there to give you a good tour of the amazingly beautiful and historically accurate display.