When steam engine trains pulled into Rockdale County hundreds of years ago on its way from Savannah to Marthasville, or Atlanta as it is known now, it helped to shape the future of the area.
Now the Georgia International Horse Park is going back to the area’s railroad roots and is inviting the public along for the ride.
The North Georgia Steamers have started construction on a railroad line that will run 1/8 scale models of steam and diesel engines (using a smaller combustion engine) behind the steeple chase grounds at the Georgia International Horse Park.
“We’ve been working pretty feverishly for the last year and a half on putting track on the ground,” said Norman Wizner, President of the North Georgia Live Steamers.
The non-profit club was formed in 1978, welcoming all live steam and miniature railroad enthusiasts. The club originally used a track in Duluth at the Southeast Rail and Transportation Museum for monthly runs, drawing over 2,000 riders.
When the museum moved to a new location, there was not enough space for the Georgia Live Steamers track, and the club was without a home.
In 2008 it was recommended to Wizner to talk with the city of Conyers. City Manager Tony Lucas helped work out a deal to bring the railroad to the Horse Park.
Construction began in 2009 behind the steeple chase area, across from Hawthorne Suites, starting with a lot of dirt and gravel.
Tons and tons of fill dirt was donated to the group, which went about leveling out the hilly pock-marked ground around the steeple chase. When the dirt was down the group then compacted it both with machines and Mother Nature.
From there gravel needed to be added to form a base for the tracks. After the crushed up gravel was placed down, ballast gravel came next to build up the area where the tracks would be placed.
In all, 30 truck loads containing 20 tons of gravel was brought to the site.
While that was going on some of the club members were working hard at building the track for the 1/8 scale trains.
Much of the track is already built and as of this week 4,050 foot of track has been placed.
“We’re probably about 750 foot of track short of completing a loop, which would be able to run continuously,” said Wizner.
Before each area of track goes down, the volunteer members first have to work on drainage areas, and locations for track switches and water tubes for the steam engines.
“The way of the land, the way it was, we had to get a lot of fill in,” Wizner said. “We brought in 700 front loads of fill in. In order to use it, so we don’t have an issue, we are using Mother Nature’s compaction.”
The club is currently working on some of the bigger projects in the rail yard such as a turntable to put different trains on different directions of the track and a loading apparatus.
“The engines weigh at least 700 pounds, so you have to have an apparatus to load these things,” Wizner said. We are at the point right now where we have projects that need to be completed this winter.”
They hope to have the turntable and loading apparatus done this winter – weather permitting – and then get back to finishing the track.
Wizner, who is quick to call himself an “eternal optimist” feels that it may be ready for rides beginning in the fall of 2012.
“The areas we’re going to go to next should enclose our big loop,” Wizner said. “We should be done with that if the weather cooperates and we don’t run out of steam ourselves, we should be done with that sometime in the summer.”
For more information on the North Georgia Steamers, go to www.northgeorgialivesteamers.org