A Ballwin resident who has a lifelong involvement with trains, spends his time volunteering in the Route 66 Pacific Railfan Visitor Center & Museum at 100 E. St. Louis St.
Robert McCaskill grew up in Pine Bluff, Ark., where his father worked on the St. Louis Southwestern (SSW) Railway, known by its nickname, the Cotton Belt Route.
The railway was founded in 1870 to connect northeastern Texas and southeastern Arkansas.
As a boy, McCaskill said he took an occasional steam train excursion and was hooked as a rail fan.
“That’s when I fell in love with model trains,” he said.
The Cotton Belt ran passenger trains from St. Louis to Texas and from Memphis, Tenn., to Shreveport, La., and Dallas, Texas.
The last Cotton Belt passenger train, No. 8, operated on Nov. 30, 1959, from McCaskill’s hometown of Pine Bluff to East St. Louis, Ill.
McCaskill said he first came to Pacific a year ago to watch the trains with friends and fell in love with the downtown.
Now he can be found here Friday through Sunday — and frequently on other days — greeting museum guests and helping Railfan club members run their trains on the museum’s HO gauge train layout, which resembles an old railroad downtown like Pacific.
He was in the museum on a recent Wednesday, cleaning up and getting ready for weekend visitors.
“We’d be open more days if we had more volunteers to help run the museum,” McCaskill said.
He did manage to recruit one new volunteer, Carol Kay, who was so taken with his enthusiasm for the museum and the town that she moved to downtown Pacific three months ago and can be found in the museum four days a week like McCaskill.
McCaskill and Ron Sansone met Kay, a former TWA flight attendant, at an America Center event and wooed her with stories of life in an old railroad town.
“I moved from downtown St. Louis to downtown Pacific sight unseen,” she said, “and I’ve never been disappointed.”
In addition to the usual dusting, selling T-shirts and model train memorabilia and greeting museum patrons, Kay considers her No. 1 job to be greeting the passing trains.
An electronic rail monitoring screen and a radio that monitors the engineers reports tell her which trains will soon pass through Pacific and what size the train is.
“They say the number of axles and that tells us how many cars,” McCaskill said.
The pair say they know the engineers in the slower moving freight trains have taken notice of their greetings because some of them now roll down their windows, lean out and mimic the two-handed wave that Kay developed.
They are uncertain whether engineers on the fast-moving Amtrak trains notice them, but they never fail to watch the electronic board and exit to the rear of the museum to wave as the train whizzes by.
“We’re not open every day, but I greet the trains every day we’re open,” Kay said. “I want them to know that we appreciate that there are still passenger trains.”
The museum is working to receive 510(c)(3) status and hopes to expand to the second floor of the building.
“We have an 18- by 40-foot U-shaped model train display that Paul Thomas of the Lionel Club built,” McCaskill said. “We’re working toward setting that up upstairs.”
For more information about the museum call 314-393-3555.