GREENVILLE — Gerry Satterwhite loves model trains, planes and automobiles.
Satterwhite may not be an expert, but he can tell you a lot about them.
“I know just enough to get me into trouble,” Satterwhite said, as he sat in his Greenville Hobby Depot.
Satterwhite has operated the store, inside the Uptown Forum at 2610 Lee Street, since last August. Before that, he helped run the Greenville Railroad Museum along with Steven Pawlow inside the former M-K-T (Katy) depot.
“I’ve got five years experience running a hobby store,” Satterwhite said. “I’ve been building model trains since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. My daddy was in the aircraft industry.”
The Greenville Hobby Depot carries a variety of kits and equipment, but a lot of it has to do with model railroading.
“It is America’s number one hobby,” Satterwhite said.
One wall of the shop features 25 engines for sale, along with dozens of cars of rolling stock.
“They all belong to me, all of them,” he said, adding that some of the other items in the store are being sold on consignment. “I have a couple of vendors. I buy, sell and trade.”
Satterwhite pulled down a Union Pacific locomotive.
“This is a $125 engine,” Satterwhite said, noting the extensive detail. He then held out a Burlington locomotive, one with fewer visible specifications. “This one goes for $80.”
In one display case sits a boxcar from the Texas Midland Railroad, which Satterwhite explained holds a special local significance.
“Texas Midland was one of Greenville’s first railroads,” Satterwhite said. “They came to Greenville, I think, in 1894.”
Satterwhite also has a personal interest in the railroad, as the former Texas Midland right-of-way runs right past his home in Cash.
Satterwhite said the basic principle of the hobby is simple enough. Men of a certain age will recall growing up with the model railroads of their youth, the track running along the floor and the transformer which controlled the speed of the train by varying the voltage.
“All a train is, is an electric motor that runs on two pieces of wire that look like railroad tracks,” he said.
But model railroading has entered the 21st century.
“It is computer-controlled now,” Satterwhite said. “You can even control them with a smart phone. You control the train and not the track.”
One of the displays in the shop is operated using a hand-held device about the size of a television remote.
“This one can control up to 1,000 trains at once,” Satterwhite said.
Gone are the days when the model engines simulated the chugging of their much larger counterparts as they clicked and clacked down the tracks. Now, the more expensive versions can include computer chips which faithfully recreate the rumbles and whistles of a giant locomotive.
“You have the actual sounds of the Caterpillar engine running,” Satterwhite said. “It thinks it is a real engine.”
His store tends to be a fairly quiet during the summer, but Satterwhite expects business to pick up during the fall and as the holidays approach. People will be interested in buying trains and planes.
“I’ve also had a lot of interest lately in model rocketry,” Satterwhite said, noting that model building is a different experience than what the children of today — those hooked on fast computer downloads and video games — are used to.
“It takes a certain amount of skill,” Satterwhite said, as the projects involve the meticulous assembling and painting of multiple small parts, a process which takes time.
And he believes that is a good thing.
“You just don’t shake the box and a model airplane comes out,” Satterwhite said. “I think patience is something people need these days.”