Ag museum unveils railroad exhibit

Managing Editor

DOVER, Del. (May 2, 2016) –– The Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village unveiled a new exhibit last week, highlighting the relationship between the state’s agriculture history and the railroad.
The centerpiece of the “Feeding the Country by Rail” exhibit is a 130-square-foot model train display featuring a dozen farms modeled after operations in Delaware.
“The train was a big part of rural life and especially farming,” said Di Rafter, museum director. “It’s a new imaginative exhibit in a historical museum that just captures the history so well.”
The model display was inspired by Norman E. Collins Jr., a former museum president, who after his death in 2007, willed his model train collection to the museum with the idea of making a farm-related exhibit.
“He felt that a railroad exhibit like this would not only be integral to enhance the mission of the museum but attract visitors, especially children,” said Mr. Collins’ wife Suzanne, who came to the exhibit unveiling on April 26 with her granddaughter Katherine Collins Waite. “He would love this. I’m delighted to see children here today.”
Along with farming in the Middletown area, Mr. Collins had a 40-year career as a professor in agricultural engineering and department chairman at the University of Delaware and was a lifelong HO scale model train hobbyist.
“Our entire basement was full of trains,” Suzanne Collins said of her husband’s collection with a big smile. “You know a model train layout is never done.”
Some of Mr. Collins’ collection was used in the display and some pieces were also auctioned off by the museum to raise money for supplies to make accurate models of the farms selected for the exhibit, Rafter said. 
Rafter said the museum turned to Ed Kee, Delaware agriculture secretary for advice on what farms to model in representing Delaware agriculture and 12 farms were chosen.
Including the Collins Farm, the farms featured in the display are the Jester Farm and McDowell Farms in Middletown, the Woodward Dairy farm, Fifer Orchards, the Walker/Derby farm, the James Hastings farm near Laurel, John G. Townsend farm, Mountaire Farms, Perdue Farms, T.G Adams and O.A. Newton in Bridgeville and the Richardson/Robbins cannery that was in Dover.
Withthe fams chosen, members of the First State Model Train Club began the multi-year process of building each farm building, house and cornstalk for the display.
With the work divided up among club members, they worked every Thursday night finishing the model displays, said Jim Thompson of the railroad club who designed the display’s layout.
“They did amazing work,” said Rafter. “It’s a tedious job putting this together. There was a lot of thought and engineering that went into this.”
The table holding the display, she added, was made from Delaware wood selected by the Delaware Forest Service.
Club member Earl Brooks designed and built the model for the Jester Farm near Middletown based on photos he took at the farm.
“It was fun,” he said of the yearlong process of building models of the farmhouse, buildings and grain bins. “I enjoyed doing it. I’m retired so it kept me out of trouble.”
Thompson said it’s a “big relief” to have the exhibit finished aside from periodical maintenance and cleaning.
For him, the exhibit does what it is intended: It shows the important relationship between transportation and agriculture in Delaware’s history.
“It’s something that will be here for a lifetime in one way or another,” he said. “There’s a lot of history for farming in Delaware moved by trains.”