Well, the first aspect of railroad that ever entered into my life was a little plastic toy train that we had running around the Christmas tree when I was just a couple years old. My parents tell me I loved that thing, and would play with it and watch it for hours.
Shortly thereafter, my parents felt that I was old enough to take rides up at the nearby Strasburg Railroad and the Wilmington and Western Railroad. I personally believe this is responsible for the majority of my "railroad fever!" I got hooked on rides at these places, and must have visited them at least 3 or 4 times a month!
Progress continued on the model trains, until I discovered Live Steam. I wanted one of those locomotives so bad, that I cut lawns all summer, and saved up enough to buy a little "G" scale, butane fired live steamer. Unfortunately, this isn't large enough to ride on, so it didn't quite cut it for me. So I saved more money, and bought a casting and parts kit for a 1.5" scale 0-4-0 Plantation Locomotive (fortunately, my dad and I have a large metalworking machine shop), and I started construction.
Forseeably, this locomotive was going to take a while to finish, and I was in my second year of High School-- we weren't going to be able to run my engine until I was about the right age to go to college-- so we took the next step! -My dad purchased an "operational" 1" scale NYC 4-8-2 Mohawk, one which was constructed from the original NYC blueprints by a master tool and die maker. In fact, there were 2 models made, and my engine's sister is in the NYC Museum in Elkhart, IN.
During all the live steam activities, I had become involved with the Rough and Tumble Engineer's Museum's 30" gauge Shay Railroad. We run a Class A (2 cylinder, 2 Truck) shay around a loop which encompasses the entire museum. To this day, I dedicate many hours to this organization each month, in trackwork, and in working the train and locomotive.
Within the last few years, I have also become involved in the Wilmington and Western Railroad, here in Delaware. We're FRA regulated, so I can't do as many fun things as I can at the Shay (since I'm under 18), but I still work as a volunteer Trainman, and occasionally in the restoration shop.
Additionally, I attended the NRHS' RailCamp in the summer of 2002, which was one of THE GREATEST experiences of my life. I made so many great friends there, and had such fun doing what i love to do -- that is, work on steam locomotives. I enjoyed the experience so much that I wrote an article about RailCamp in the June 2003 Edition of Railfan and Railroad Magazine.
It was, in my opinion, luck -- that my favorite Christmas gift was a train. If it weren't for this, who knows what I'd be interested in today.
I believe one of the greatest steps that anyone can take in getting kids involved in railroading is to let them do some of the actual work that's involved in restoring and operating a railroad. RailCamp has successfully achieved this goal in my mind, and I hope that it continues to do so, and that others will pick up on this idea, and keep it alive.
I have a few ideas listed below that might help to get kids hooked:
-Invite kids up into the cab of the locomotive.
*Let them Shovel some coal, or blow the whistle*
-Initiate work activities which include younger people. Let them learn to drive a spike, or use machinery.
-Let them run the locomotive a short distance. In some instances where behavior is a problem, this may be stretching it, but just the feeling of taking the controls is a thrill NO ONE can forget.
-Put yourself out to kids, so that they know you're not feeling contempt against them. Railroaders have a tendancy to look "mean," I know I do at some times, but when you see a kid, try to smile and wave a bit, and ask them if they're interested in trains. Help to interpret the story of the rails to them.
I for one plan to dedicate my life to the machines that I am so enamoured with. I hope that one day I can help bring the joy of the Steam Locomotive and the Railroad into the lives of kids.