Forrest Becht has loved trains all his life, and that didn’t diminish with the more than 40 years he spent working in the railroad industry.
It’s a career that took him all over the world, he said, and he and his wife, Carol, still plan all their vacations around his newest hobby — photographing trains.
The Bechts had dozens of books of Forrest Becht’s photographs displayed for perusal at the fourth annual Train Day at the East Baton Rouge Parish Public Library’s Jones Creek Branch on Jan. 30.
“He tells me where he wants to go, what intersection, and I plan the travel to get there,” Carol Becht said. “We could be out at a crossing for five hours waiting for the train to pass,” all in the name of getting the perfect shot of a particular train and a particular crossing.
But enthusiasts of full-sized trains weren’t the only participants in the Saturday event. At the recommendation of their grandchildren, the first year they organized Train Day, they added more model trains and train sets.
“They looked around and said, ‘You need more for kids to do,’ and they were right. Kids walk in and make a beeline to the set,” she said.
The Bechts started the event to give model train, life-sized train, train photography, train travel, and train historical organizations a place to converge once a year, and it has become a networking event for the relatively few, if enthusiastic, young people seeking out careers in the rail industry.
“We have one young man here who has wanted to work with trains all his life, and another young man in college who has become a sort of mentor to him,” Carol Becht said.
But everyone under a certain age conjugated around four model trains set up on tables and running through their tiny landscapes at the event.
Clay Fourrier, president of the Train Collectors’ Association and the Greater Baton Rouge Model Railroaders, got his first train set as a young child, he said. “My dad worked at J.C. Penney, and he got a discount,” Fourrier recalled.
As he grew older, went to college, started dating, he said, the train got packed away in the attic, but when he had children of his own, he dusted that original set off, set it up for the kids, and kept adding to it.
“I discovered I was still a kid, myself,” he said, adding that he still has the original train set, and it still works.
“Those things will last 50, 75 years,” he said.
Among the booths on display at Train Day were several railroad historical societies, including the Illinois Central Historical Society, where John Fortner, vice president of the national organization, talked about the deep ties railways have with American history, culture and literature. From expansion in the western territories of a young United States to the Golden Spike that completed the transcontinental railroad, to Samuel Clemens’ pen name, Mark Twain, taken from the steamboat designation for a depth of water considered safe for boat passage, railways are a rich part of the national story, and are still relevant today, Fortner said.
Carol Becht said last year, about 350 people came through the event, and she expected about the same this year.
“It’s a big job for two people to do, and we hope to keep doing it,” she said, adding that many volunteers with the different train organizations, and the staff at the library, helped make it possible.
For more information on model trains, visit www.greaterbrrailroaders.com, or go to Jackson headquarters, which is open to the public the second and fourth Saturday of each month from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For more information on the history of trains, visit www.icrrhistorical.org.