ALL ABOARD! Youngsters keep Sheldon trains rolling

MIDDLEBURY — If post-holiday season blues have already set in, the Sheldon Museum has a cure — at least until Sunday. The museum’s annual train exhibit will be taken down after this weekend, and volunteer Alex Shashok, 9, has a word of advice for anyone still on the fence about making a trip to 1 Park St. in downtown Middlebury in the next few days.
“It’s not going to be a boring waste of time,” Shashok said. “It’s going to be like the polar opposite of that.”
Shashok is one of the youngest of Sheldon Museum’s “train guys,” the mostly male group of volunteer model train enthusiasts that head up the popular exhibit each year. Aside from assisting with the setup, Shashok works the mechanical controls hidden behind the plaster cloth mountain, fixes the trains when they break down, and does track repair work when needed.
Shashok has been a volunteer for two years. He received his training from volunteer Jacob Giles, a junior at Mount Abraham Union High School.
“It takes about 100 hours to put it together each year,” Giles said. “We take it up from the basement, into the attic, and then put it together. A month and a half, two months later, we disassemble the whole thing… It’s pretty slick, the way we have it set up.”
Giles has been volunteering with the train exhibit since he was eight years old. “That’s over half my life,” he laughed. Giles has turned his passion for mechanics into a profession: In addition to attending Mount Abe, he works as a mechanic, and hopes to make a career out of mechanical engineering.
He is glad to see Shashok and other young men take up the responsibilities of volunteering.
“I’m going off to college in a couple of years and we need them to be here. They are really excited, they remind me of myself at that age.”
The first time that new volunteers come in, Giles lets them play around with the controls and run the trains. “Then, if they’re really enthusiastic about it, I’ll show them how to take apart the trains,” he said. “Most of them come into it with a certain amount of knowledge … their dads have trains, or they got a little show set (as a gift).”
For her part, Shashok’s mother, Middlebury selectwoman Susan Shashok, remembers bringing her son to the Sheldon Museum exhibit throughout the years, when he was too young to see it without being lifted up to the display level.
“When we started to leave, he started crying — he didn’t do that when he was older — but the man (volunteering) said, ‘You’ve got a train lover there,’” Susan Shashok recalled.
The train exhibit at the Sheldon Museum is a tradition that carries on through the years and generations. But for this holiday season, the ride is almost over.
“The mountain comes apart, then the tracks and then the platforms,” Giles explained.
The Sheldon Museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week. After this weekend, spring hours will be in effect, and the museum will be open on Saturdays only until March 2.
The Research Center will be closed during that period, too. Regular Museum and Research Center hours will resume on Tuesday, March 5.
For information about the archives, email [email protected]. Museum staff will be on site between Jan. 15 and March 2 and can be reached via phone or email. 

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