When strangers hear Joel McCurry exclaim "Go Green!" they might think he’s talking about traffic signals. His friends, however, recognize a cheer for his favorite railroad, the Burlington Northern.
Long before Big Green, there was Lionel; and it was his cousin’s three-rail layout, and the Lionel train set Joel received for Christmas in 1957 that sparked his interest in electric trains. Eventually that interest grew dormant as other distractions competed for his attention. But during a 1970 trip to Germany, Joel discovered N scale trains. Three years later, he purchased his first 1:160 scale equipment: an Atlas CB&Q covered hopper and a GN box car. His first locomotives were CB&Q and GN "Big Sky Blue" F-9s by Bachmann.
The attraction to BN grew from Joel’s desire to model something different. At the time his interest in N scale developed, manufacturers produced a seeming overabundance of UP, PRR, NYC and Santa Fe items. Those popular roads were too much in the mainstream for Joel, who reasoned instead that a focus on BN and its predecessors – CB&Q, GN, NP, SP&S – offered a counterpoint to the commonplace. Besides Big Green, he also finds the Southern, Clinchfield and Seaboard appealing. BNSF holds scant interest, however; his model timeline ends with BN.
Joel remembers seeing NRMRC layouts at Raleigh-area venues from about 1980. He joined the club in 1989 and quickly built a 12-foot module featuring much-needed passing sidings. Since then, he has worked more on NRMRC modules than his own. Most recently Joel and a few other members renovated the club’s yard, tee and yard crossover, and built two junction modules. Adept at wiring and track laying, his favorite aspect of the hobby, unquestionably, is running trains. Joel was in 1:160 scale heaven operating the "Red Line Route" at the 1996 NTRAK East Convention and coordinating the use of NRMRC modules in that massive layout.
According to Joel, novice model railroaders will be happier in the long run if they "buy quality. It operates better. Get involved with a club and learn what’s good to buy. Clubs also offer exposure to new and different ideas" about modeling techniques, as do visits to shows and home layouts. Talk to and learn from experienced hobbyists: "Exposure is important," Joel emphasizes.
In addition to N scale modeling, Joel’s passion for trains includes riding real rails. He has taken Amtrak’s Cardinal to Chicago, the Pioneer to Seattle and the Talgo from Seattle to Vancouver. Rolling across Montana on the Empire Builder was unforgettable. He has also ridden the California Zephyr from Denver to Emeryville (Oakland) and the Coast Starlight from Oakland to San Diego and north to San Francisco.
Joel was NRMRC president in 1993 and vice-president in 1998. He grew up in Forest City, NC, double-majored in Engineering and Computer Science at NC State, and has lived in Cary since 1988. Currently a controls engineer for O’Neal Inc., Joel belongs to the Instrument Society of America. He is a NMRA member and enjoys visiting the mountains.
And the next time your drive through Cary, pay close attention to the bicyclists: you might glimpse Joel, a recreational rider since 1974. Just be patient with him if he blocks intersections to admire the green lights!