- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 2, 2004

As long as there have been railroads, there have been children who love trains. That’s why the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum was teeming with preschoolers on a recent Sunday. The museum is a great place to see trains, play with trains and even climb on a train.

“There is just something about trains that captivates kids,” says Ron Beavers, a member of the museum’s board of directors.

Even grown-up train lovers will enjoy a visit to the museum, which is a re-creation of the 1903 station that served the area. There is a lot of history here, from Fairfax Station’s role in helping the wounded during the Civil War (Red Cross founder Clara Barton tended to the wounded here in 1862 after Second Manassas) to the growth of the surrounding area from countryside to bedroom community.

The role of Fairfax Station throughout the years is chronicled at the museum through documents, artifacts and pictures.

First and foremost, though, are the trains. The third Sunday of every month draws a steady stream of visitors as the Northern Virginia NTRAK club sets up model trains in the center of the small museum.

N-scale hobbyists create precise models to a scale in which 1 inch equals 160 inches, says club president Cotton Bowen. On a recent Sunday, the trains looped through more than a dozen 4-foot-longscene sections. Some of the landscapes included a rendering of Fairfax Station in the early 1900s and one of downtown Silver Spring.

“There is no restriction to what you can put in a model,” Mr. Bowen says. “The train can go from country to city to a Western scene.”

The youngsters can look at the models but can’t touch. That is OK, though, because they can get closer to other things, such as a table of Brio trains and Thomas the Tank Engine toys. That’s where Mark Peterson of Springfield and Christopher Lin of Fairfax, both age 3, were busily enjoying themselves.

“They love trains,” said Mark’s mother, Janice Peterson. “They are having a good time. Trains can be educational. It is a great way to learn to count, to learn colors and how things go.”

The boys also spent some time next to the museum, where a 1960s-era caboose — donated to the museum by the Norfolk & Western Railway — is parked on the tracks.

Children can climb aboard and explore the inside of the caboose, which includes lots of nooks and crannies where railroad workers formerly toiled.

Among the memorabilia at the museum is a timeline that explains the history of Fairfax Station as a place as well as a train station.

The first Fairfax Station was built in 1858. After about 3,000 wounded Union soldiers were taken there awaiting transport to hospitals in Alexandria and the District following Second Manassas, the station was deliberately burned down to avoid its falling into enemy hands.

Fairfax Station was rebuilt by the Orange and Alexandria Railroad Co. in 1865, and for a long time, it was an important commuter and transportation hub for the city of Fairfax. In 1903, a state-of-the-art facility was built nearby.

The Southern Railway System ran the train through the 1950s and 1960s. However, with train travel declining with the dawn of the jet age, the Southern Railway closed the depot in 1973.

The old depot was disassembled piece by piece by a citizens group, the Friends of Fairfax Station, in 1981. When the old pieces eventually were found to be too decrepit to use, the group decided to re-create the station rather than rebuild it. In the late 1980s, Fairfax County vocational students took on the task, and the museum was opened for business in 1988.

Sixteen years later, train lovers are still stopping by.

“It is really gratifying to see,” Mr. Bowen says. “The kids just keep on coming.”

When you go

What: Fairfax Station Railroad Museum

Address: 11200 Fairfax Station Road, Fairfax Station

Directions: Take Interstate 66 to the Fairfax County Parkway south. Follow the parkway to Burke Centre Parkway and turn to the east (the only turn possible). Follow Burke Centre Parkway east to the first light at Ox Road and turn left. Turn left at Fairfax Station Road. Follow Fairfax Station Road for about half a mile. The station is on the right.

Hours: Open Sundays 1 to 4 p.m.

Admission: $2 for adults; $1 for children ages 4 to 10; and free for children younger than 4.

Parking: Ample free parking in parking lot.

Miscellaneous:

• The Fairfax Station museum — a re-creation of the 1903 depot — offers a glimpse into the history of the area as well as a look at train transportation from a bygone era. Children will like the train artifacts and models as well as the real caboose parked beside the museum.

• The Northern Virginia NTRAK model train club sets up a large, working display at the museum the third Sunday of the month.

• A gift shop that sells train-themed and Civil War items.

• The museum will hold its annual model train display event from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5.

Information: Phone 703/425-9225 or click on www.fairfax-station.org.

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