By Joselyn Watkins


Joselyn: Dick, your garden railroad project has caught the attention of many of your Lake Lure Rumbling Bald Resort neighbors. What got you started?

Dick: When I was a new resident, seventeen year ago, I became a friend of Rolland King when we discovered our mutual interest in model railroading. He had a garden railroad on his property here and it was a pleasure for me to help him get it back into shape each spring upon his return from his winter home in Sarasota, Florida. Some readers will recognize Rolland as the founder of our resort community more than 50 years ago. In 2016, at the age of 94, Rolland decided to make a gift of his railroad to me. This “trainsplantation” has nearly been completed and to a new design.


Joselyn: Did you have toy trains as a child?

Dick: My parents gave me my first “Lionel” train set when I was about six. It was among the last manufactured before World War Two, at which time their factory was converted for the war effort.

With my father’s enthusiastic support we had a “train layout” in our basement. He was gifted with artistic and mechanical abilities and I became especially fascinated by the electrical components and circuitry. Along with my younger brother, Paul, we challenged war shortages and a basic lack of family affluence but had fun in the process. Our greatest blessing at the time was to have our dad at home. Four of his brothers survived military service in that war.


Joselyn:  What are the main differences between toy trains and serious model railroading?


Dick: One of the distinctions is that toy trains are “played with” by children while model railroads are “operated” by their owners. The latter tend to be older and more sophisticated! Fine detailing of locomotives and cars and their smooth operation are priorities. Studied care is given to scenic aspects such as buildings, bridges and backdrops. Everything must be kept to scale.


Joselyn: You mentioned scale. Can you explain that?


Dick: Yes. Scale is the proportion of the model to the real thing. There are several popular scales pursued by hobbyists. Lionel and similar trains are made to “O” scale. “HO” scale is smaller and is the most popular because it allows more “train stuff” to be fitted into a given space. For those with a suitable outdoor space, “G” scale is typical. These parts are larger in all ways than “O” scale and must be weather proof – no cardboard buildings possible. Many “G” scale railroads are surrounded by live plants in beautiful gardens.


Joselyn: I know that you also have a large “HO” scale model railroad in your basement. How long have you been working on that one?


Dick: Since occupying our home in 2001. I work on it in “fits and starts” because it is in competition with my several other interests such as music making, genealogy research, travel and household upkeep.


Joselyn: Do you welcome visitors?


Dick: Absolutely. Half the fun in model railroading is the creative satisfaction gained. The other half is in sharing the results. Call me at 828-625-0583 to work out a convenient time. Great for visiting grandchildren! Interested folks will also want to go to the train museum conducted by Peggy Keyes (near the Lake Lure Post Office). Her late husband, Larry, and I were close friends from childhood. Larry was a prominent collector of Lionel trains. Dozens of early ones are on display along with operating later models. Donations ($5.00) are requested for Pancreatic Cancer Research. Peggy meets all of the overhead for this museum to help keep this research visible to the public. My wife, Barbara, and I are among friends who volunteer to help Peggy.


Biographical sketch: Dick Nealon was born and reared in the North Bronx section of New York City. He earned his B.A. degree at the City College of New York. His M.Ed and Ed.D. degrees were awarded by Cornell University. His career included service as a math and history teacher, high school principal, superintendent of schools and college professor. Dick is active in the Fairfield Mountains Chapel as an Elder, choir member, substitute organist and hand bell ringer. He is happy going through life as the husband of Barbara Ann Honan Nealon, B.A., M.Ed., also a retired educator. They are the proud parents of one daughter and three sons, and one granddaughter and three grandsons.