Augusta County Railroad Club continues search for permanent home
By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
STAUNTON — Saturday, Dec. 18 is the last day to see the Augusta County Railroad Club’s train displays at 18 New Street in downtown before the club must pack them back up and return to storage.
From 2015 until December 2020, the club occupied 2,800 square-feet of space at the Staunton Mall in what was formerly the Hallmark store. Founded in 1993, the club operates for the public, but is never able to operate in one space for more than a few years.
“Our problem is we’re an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization,” said Lundy Pentz, who served as club president for two years until last month and has been a member for 20 years.
In its current temporary location on New Street, formerly the Augusta Health Thrift Store, the club has three railroad tracks on display in an HO layout that is 8 feet wide by 20 feet long.
“And that’s small by the standards of what we had in the mall,” Pentz said. In the mall, the club had 18 to 20 trains on display at any given time.
The club needs a space, preferably 3,000 square feet, that is accessible to the public, includes handicap accessibility and restroom facilities, and is preferably in Staunton near downtown. According to Pentz, the Staunton Downtown Development Association is helping the club identify possible locations, but the club cannot afford expensive monthly rent.
“Right now, we are just searching and hoping [not to have to go back to storage space],” Pentz said. Storage damages some of the club’s railroad materials, which then must be repaired before being displayed again.
Pentz, a retired biology professor who has lived in Staunton for 40 years, said he enjoys building sets and making the scenery realistic.
“You bring everything you’ve got to the table to make it realistic,” he said.
Ideally, the club, which had 54 members before the COVID-19 pandemic, would like to own its own space.
“Members are very anxious to find a location where we can open and be available year round [for the public],” Pentz said. And “find a place where we can do what we like to do.”
And what the club likes to do is for members to share their love of model railroads. Donations only are accepted as admittance to the club’s display locations where students can learn about the history of the railroad in the U.S., the electricity and the mathematics involved in running a real railroad, and the engineering behind a locomotive.
“It’s amazing with kids at different levels [teaching them basic math and history],” Pentz said. The club also welcomes senior citizen groups, home-schooled students, in addition to local school groups.
In the new year, the club hopes to return to attending train shows, including hosting the Shenandoah Valley Train Show usually held at Augusta Expo in the spring. Pentz said that the show serves as a source of income for the club, as well as annual member dues. When the show used to be held, he would teach classes on creating railroad scenery.
“We’re hoping to get back into the show business,” Pentz said.