Some may think of steam locomotives as things of the past, but don’t mention that to the North Georgia Live Steamers. The non-profit railroad club, formed in 1978, has been constructing a railroad line that will run 1/8 scale rideable models of steam, diesel and electric locomotives at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers. And next week, they’ll be teeing off to raise funds to finish construction of the line by the Nov. 2 grand opening.
Their original home was in Duluth, at the Southeastern Rail and Transportation Museum, but once the museum relocated it didn’t have adequate space to accommodate NGLS and its new track. Although derailed for a short period of time, NGLS eventually found a new home at GIHP in 2009 and was granted about 35 acres of land. “We wanted the club to be in a public place and offer the public an opportunity to observe the hobby and take part in the hobby and participate on a regular basis,” said LaVay Sheldon, one of three board members of the NGLS. The club also has a smaller, portable track they set up and operate at special events throughout the year.
The engines may look small but they’re powerful and can pull more 50 people, kids and adults alike, at one time. The railroad, which will feature over 6,000 feet of track through wooded and grassy areas, will serve as the club’s home track. “You can come and see, and now for the first time ride on, the trains at this club,” said Sheldon.
The first operational steam locomotive was built in the United Kingdom in 1804 by a man named Richard Trevithick. A little over 200 years later and the NGLS is still promoting the idea of “live steam” by educating those interested, especially young people, in the skills and techniques needed to build, maintain and operate miniature and full size steam engines. “It’s a family hobby,” said Sheldon. The club, specifically Lavay Sheldon, works with the local Boy Scouts of America to help them achieve their railroad merit badges. Members of the club also build signals, bridges, tunnels, tracks and everything else associated with operating a railroad. New steam powered locomotive kits can cost upwards of $145,000, which is why the club relies heavily on donations as well as volunteering from the community. “We always need people to help cut grass, pull weeds, and wipe the leaves and debris off the track. Also, we’re eventually going to need people who want to come and learn how to be an engineer,” said Sheldon.
NGLS will host its grand opening of the railroad, aptly named Conyers & Hightower Trail Railroad, on Nov. 2 complete with a golden spike ceremony, train rides and track tours. “We don’t normally operate in the winter months, but we wanted to get it kicked off this year,” said Sheldon. It is free and open to the public. However, there is a $1 fee for each ride on the railroad that will cover insurance.
NGLS is also hosting its 3rd annual golf tournament on Sept. 25 at the Cherokee Run Golf Club in Conyers. “It’s an incredibly nice course, it’s challenging and it’s just a lot of fun. You don’t have to know anything about trains to come play,” said Sheldon. They have had great success the past two years with the tournament and hope to keep it chugging along this year as well. The course is located near the railroad track and GIHP. Proceeds from the tournament will help complete the final phase of construction on the railroad.
“We are trying to help fund the building of this railroad to make it the nicest appearing public railroad in the Northeast,” said Sheldon.
For more information on NGLS, the grand opening ceremony, the golf tournament or to donate your time/money, go to www.northgeorgialivesteamers.org