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The old locomotive seemed to struggle as it rounded the bend in the tracks. Pulling an endless number of cars, it huffed and puffed, tooting its horn and gearing up for the “pull.” The brakes squealed as the train halted after rounding the curve, ready to load goods for the next leg of its journey.

This scenario could be anywhere across the country, anytime in the last 100-plus years. But it’s happening in Covington at the Trailhead every Friday and Saturday through the holidays.

The Crescent City “S” Gaugers Model Railroad Club has set up its award-winning exhibit for children of all ages in the large meeting room at the Trailhead, itself a “model” of a train depot located on what was an ox lot next to the actual old Covington Depot.

Allen Evans and Mickey Guidroz, members of the club, are happily sharing their hobby and love of trains. Before there were steam engines, stagecoach cars were pulled on tracks by donkeys or horses. In New Orleans, for example, streetcars on tracks were pulled by horses before there was electricity. The pair are an encyclopedia of railroading knowledge they willingly share with everyone who visits.

The S Gauge used by the club members is a universal gauge used by architects and engineers. It is also called 1/64 gauge, with 1.875 inches equal to 1 foot. They use this gauge because it is a more visible scale as far as scope and easier to work with and view. Matchbox cars are scaled to this size, so it is easier to plan scenes and buy or make accessories to this scale.

Evans said another advantage is sound. With S Gauge, as opposed to the smaller HO scale, the train is more realistic with smoke, bells, whistles and other sound effects, such as screeching breaks and the “clickety-clack” of the train on the tracks.

The club has won several awards, including a national award in Detroit two year ago for modeling excellence and another in Atlanta for the quality of its detail. Evans said the entire model is broken down in scenes, with each of the club’s eight active members contributing a modular section.

The buildings are a combination of kit-built and hand-built buildings and scenes. Among the playful details are a camp of hobos playing checkers and swimming in the water tower. There is another hobo trying to hitch a ride. There’s a church, a swamp and many side tracks, and all models of trains are authentic reproductions of historic trains, including one that is in the Smithsonian and the shiny red New Orleans Public Belt Belle Rouge 2001 locomotive.

The sound effects are stirring and will bring memories of Christmas past and a train set under the tree.

The free exhibit is running on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. from now until Jan. 1, 2009, at the Covington Trailhead Visitor’s Center, 419 N. New Hampshire St.
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