For the past 16 years Paul McCray has been collecting memorabilia from the days when the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad was still running.
“I’ve got lots of old tickets and time tables up to 100 years old,” McCray said. “And I’ve got about 850 photos, lots of images, all in a vault in my office.”
McCray manages the Washington and Old Dominion trail, which runs along the same route as the railroad, for the Northern Virginia Park Authority. He said he has been collecting railroad artifacts in the hope that someday he will be able to put them to good use.
And now, that day may be here.
Initial plans are underway to renovate an old Vienna train station along the W and OD, near where the trail intersects with Church Street. After it is renovated, the station will be converted into a museum, where McCray’s collection will go on display.
Rebuilding the station is estimated to cost $250,000. The park authority is currently taking donations toward the project, and is also pursuing a federal grant to help with funding.
“The Northern Virginia Park Authority is really committed to [the station renovation],” said Vienna Mayor Jane Seeman.
She said she became more excited about the project after a recent vision meeting.
“WE BOUGHT that piece of property along Maple Avenue that is going to be used as a park,” Seeman said. “We have the Freeman House, we have the caboose. I really saw that historic district coming together and I really got more enthused.”
Restoration of the building will include the installation of central heating and air conditioning, to replace the window-mounted air conditioners currently in use. Metal grills will be removed from the station windows, and will be replaced by a security system.
“The idea is to make the exterior look like it did 100 years ago,” said Vienna resident Steve Bukont, owner of BFR Construction and Ayr Hill Homes. Bukont, who regularly builds historic re-creations, helped do a survey of the building to find out what needed to be restored and how to accommodate Northern Virginia Model Railroaders Club, which holds meetings at the building.
“On the south side of the building there is a door that used to be a window,” Bukont said. “There are several other openings that need to be restored. We suspect there may be some rot in the floorboards. They’re going to put in some support beams. It’s nothing that can’t be repaired rather easily.”
Irving Bialick, Vienna resident and longtime member of the Northern Virginia Model Railroaders, said funding for the project seemed more likely nine months ago, “before September 11 and the Enron crash.”
“You never know,” McCray said. “It could take a couple of years. But, we’re hopeful.”
THE W AND OD RAIL LINE was built in 1847 and the Vienna station was built in 1858. It started out as a steam line but in 1912 it converted to an electric trolley, hauling commuters from Purcellville.
“There was a real heyday in the early part of the 1900s,” McCray said. “It was never a real successful railroad. But Vienna was a moderately busy town, so this was a moderately busy station.”
In 1940 the electric trolley was replaced with diesel freight trains. The railroad closed in 1968.
“At the end, as was typical of all railroads, it cost too much to run a commuter line,” Bialick said. “So they went to industrial. And in 1968 it was abandoned.”
In 1977 the Northern Virginia Model Railroaders convinced Vienna to let the club hold meetings at the station. At that point the town was using the station to store refrigerators and washing machines that had been donated to the poor. In the attic of the building, Bialick said, there was two feet of pigeon guano. The club gutted the building and installed a new electrical system, concentrating on the west end of the building, where the club now maintains a room-size model railroad.
“We built a whole new building inside the building that is there now,” Bialick said.
THE MUSEUM will be installed in the east end of the station, where there used to be a passenger waiting room.
“The railroaders did a lot of work to the freight end, but the rest of the building is pretty much the same way it was when it closed,” McCray said.
The Northern Virginia Model Railroaders meet every Tuesday, 8 p.m., at the station. There are around 60 members currently, and visitors are welcome. One Saturday each month the club puts on a model railroad exhibition, running their HO scale model railroad from noon until 4 p.m. The next exhibition is on April 16.
Club member David Correia was at the station on a recent Saturday, working on the model railroad’s complicated wiring system. He said he has been interested in trains since he lived next to a railroad as a child.
“When I grew up, every night when the train came through, we went out the door to the track,” Correia said. “One thing about this hobby, you can get into it real easily at any age. You don’t have to get to the complexity we have here.”
For more information on the effort to restore the train station, or to make a donation, call the Northern Virginia Park Authority at 703-352-5900.