Stock car racing fan Linda Allen shouted with delight as a train of thirteen open-deck auto carriers, hauling cars and pickups wearing NASCAR and Craftsman Truck liveries, rolled into view. Was she railside near Rockingham or Charlotte Motor Speedway? No: Linda saw John Czarny's crowd-pleasing NASCAR train on the NTRAK layout at the inaugural Southern Junction train show. Her reaction illustrated precisely why John is such an avid NTRAKer. "I'm in it to make people happy," he said.
John, of Chesapeake, Va., joined the North Raleigh Model Railroad Club as an associate member in 1978. Born in Portsmouth, he is a lifelong Tidewater resident. After earning his B.S. in civil
engineering technology from Old Dominion University in 1977, he spent four years at Newport News Shipbuilding. Since 1981, he has been a nuclear engineer at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. He collects United States postage stamps and annual Hummel plates, enjoys NASCAR racing, and wants to join an old car club: his first car, a 1973 Dodge Dart Sport "in perfect shape," has Virginia antique auto license plates.
A 1976 convention car displayed in a Virginia Beach hobby shop introduced John to NTRAK. His interest in N scale stems from the late 1960s, when he was in high school. An Arnold Rapido set he received for Christmas started three decades (and counting) of 1:160-scale enjoyment.
John learned of NRMRC, and its upcoming North Hills Mall show of November 1976, through the NTRAK newsletter. A call to layout coordinator Russ Hageman encouraged him to drive down to the Raleigh event. Although he had no module to contribute, John recalled that club members "welcomed me with open arms. I had an opportunity to learn more about NTRAK, helped operate the layout, and even ran a train. At that time, NRMRC was running point to point, with two special end modules that swung the red line around to an optional rear setup track and also swung the yellow line in a loop back to the blue line. I was hooked!"
Inspired by the show, John started an NTRAK module in his family's garage. The crush of senior-year classes at Old Dominion and cold winter weather limited progress, but construction picked up considerably after graduation. With some electrical help from his father, he completed it in time for inclusion in the layout at the NMRA Mid-Eastern Region Convention and Model Railroad Industry Association trade show, held in October 1977, in Baltimore.
"The Baltimore meet was a success," said John--after he reconnected two wires on his module that had been reversed accidentally. He bought two Con-Cor Alco PAs for the event, and his 100-car freight train was televised on the local news. The following month, the module made its debut at NRMRC's North Hills Mall show.
John returned from his second Raleigh show even more bullish on NTRAK. Eager to locate Tidewater-area modular railroading activity, he left his name and phone number at a Virginia Beach hobby shop. Ray Witmer, currently of Northern Virginia NTRAK, called shortly thereafter. They and other like-minded N-scalers formed Virginia Beach NTRAK in 1979. In the early 1980s, the club changed its name to South Hampton Roads NTRAK to reflect the region of southeastern Virginia from which it drew its membership.
"Were it not for the warm welcome given me by Russ, Dave Koss, Jim Reske, and other members of the NRMRC back in November of 1976," John is convinced there would be no South Hampton Roads NTRAK. That first contact with NRMRC generated a perpetually growing enthusiasm for modular railroading that led him to help organize a club in his home area. In return, John has given NRMRC twenty years of dependable support. He has introduced the club to fellow SHR NTRAK members, some of whom also joined NRMRC as associate members: Tom and Ralph Fredenberg, and Roger Dedrick, to name three.
John's first NTRAK module, a four-foot switching unit inspired by Keysville, Va., is a staple of many NRMRC show layouts. The town was the destination of a steam excursion he rode, pulled by Southern Railway locomotive number 722, from Richmond. Since then, he built two four-foot modules that route the mountain line behind the Keysville skyboard. Another four-foot module, which will give a rural/suburban flavor to one end of Keysville, is under construction. Incidentally, in addition to the train fronted by 722, John also rode trains pulled by Southern steamers 4501 and 2839; the Chessie Steam Special, behind engine no. 2101, later destroyed in a roundhouse fire; and the first train hauled by N&W's refurbished 611.
Rather than model a specific prototype, John collects a variety of rolling stock and locomotives so he can run trains that reflect the railroads serving the area of the NTRAK show he is attending. John's NASCAR train has been a popular attraction at many shows. The train consists of 20 auto carriers and one flat car, carrying 122 race cars/trucks from what was then the Winston Cup/Busch Series/Craftsman Truck Series from 1997-1999. The late Dale Earnhardt and Kenny Irwin are honored in memory on the flat that rides in front of the auto carriers. He also has a long train of Caterpillar equipment that is very popular. Decaling is John's favorite aspect of model railroading, and he has lettered railroad cars to recall NTRAK acquaintances or features on their modules: examples include Dopler Grain and Poff Furniture, for NRMRC members Chuck Dopler and Jan Poff; and T. W. Garner Foods Inc., for associate member Art Riddle and wife Ann. Other members with Czarny decaled cars are Jim Reske, Dave Koss, Joel McCurry, Dave Thompson, John Wallis, Tom Fredenberg, Bill Royse and Don Cariss. A family connection occurred when John married Emmy Lou Barkley in May 1989. Emmy's parent grew up in Savona, NY, as did Dave Thompson's family. There are at least two family members on Emmy's side that remember Dave during their school years in Savona. A freight car for Thompson Farms was decaled; one is planned for Barkley Farms.
The secret to successful model railroading, John believes, is "to have fun with it. That's what it's all about." The hobby keeps his interest because he always learns something new, and he enjoys the camaraderie NTRAK affords. Although he counts meeting NTRAK founder Jim Fitzgerald and having his module photographed at the 1982 NMRA national convention for the NTRAK newsletter as only two highlights of twenty-five years in modular railroading, John is hard-pressed to name a favorite experience. He derives ultimate pleasure from sharing his modeling creativity with the public--and seeing the smiles, laughter, and astonishment in the faces of preschoolers, grandparents, and even adult NASCAR fans when they watch the trains run. In that respect, John said, "Every time I go to a show," the NTRAK experience "keeps getting better, and better, and better."
by Jan Poff
updated June 2009 by John Czarny
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