Yorkville resident, train enthusiast and aspiring Eagle Scout George Werderich is planning to build a pavilion-style train station in Plowman’s Park in Big Rock.
The station would be a 14- by 24-foot wood structure built along the Prairie State 7.5 gauge railroad run by the Prairie State Railroad Club and provide shelter for those getting on and off the train.
PSRC has operated at Plowman’s park since 1990, and Werderich has been a member since he was 10. The project would serve as Werderich’s Eagle Scout service project.
Werderich and his family have a long history with trains and the Boy Scouts, dating back to his grandparents. His grandfather George A. Werderich worked for railroads in Chicago for much of his life and was an avid toy train collector and enthusiast. His grandmother Anita Werderich was Scoutmaster to his father, Wally Werderich, and an active member of the Scouts for 50 years.
Werderich has belonged to the Train Collectors Association, a club that hosts national conventions all around the U.S., for most of his life. His father and grandfather brought him to his first convention when he was just two weeks old.
His first memory of trains is from age 4 or 5, helping his father build their first track layout in the basement. He recalled it being smaller than the track they have now and many of his trains being more “toy-ish” than the exact replica models he runs now.
Werderich also recalls going to his grandfather’s house at an early age to run the trains on his track. Like Werderich, his grandfather also got into trains at a young age, and the infatuation has been passed down through the generations.
In Werderich’s collection, which his grandfather started, there are about 200 engines and more than 1,000 cars.
Werderich doesn’t just enjoy running the trains around his basement. He can tell you the names of each of his model engines, the engine specifications and the history of their full sized counterparts. He even adds specific scented smoke to each of his model engines to emulate the real engine’s scent.
All of his engines are model replicas of real trains that either still run or have been decommissioned. His favorites, he said, are the Southern Pacific Cab Forward, and the Union Pacific Big Boy.
Hearing Werderich explain why he likes the Big Boy and the Cab Forward model – it’s basically a backwards version of an articulated locomotive like the Big Boy, modified so that smoke wouldn’t fill the conductor’s cab while going through tunnels – is something that could be appreciated fully only in his presence.
Werderich’s passion immediately becomes apparent when he speaks about trains, and not with a childlike wonder that you might expect. There is a maturity and pride to his excitement that is surprising at first, coming from a shaggy headed 16 year-old in a Scout uniform.
Werderich said he doesn’t have many local friends his age who are into trains like he is, which is one of the reasons the PSRC is so important to him. He met his railfan friends through his YouTube channel, internet forums and train conventions, and they are scattered around the country.
Werderich decided in January that building the train station for PSRC was what he wanted to do for his Eagle Scout project. He is currently a Life Scout, one rank away from Eagle Scout, and has accrued all the merit badges and community service hours needed to advance to the rank of Eagle Scout, with the exception of his Eagle project.
He was first inspired to build the station during a discussion between members of the PSRC, long before he was nearing the rank of Eagle Scout.
When Werderich was a Cub Scout, he attended a summer camp at Plowman’s Park, where the PSRC was giving train rides. He asked his father if he could join the club and has now been a member for five years.
At a club meeting when he was about 13, Werderich heard the members talk about wanting a station at the park, but not having the funds to build it.
“It’s not a big club,” Werderich said, “But they’ve done a lot for me, and I decided I want to do this for them.”
Werderich and his family have been going to Plowman’s Park for many years now.
“Some families have a boat, some have country clubs,” said his father, Wally. “That’s just what we do in the summer, we go out there and spend the day with the family.”
Upon deciding the station would be his Eagle Project, Werderich immediately put together his team, consisting of his parents, his grandmother and the president of the Prairie State Railroad Club, William Kobernus.
With his team, Werderich assembled a plan so elaborate that he filled a very large three-ring binder with information and plans for his project from site maps and renderings to permit applications and fundraising plans. Then he got to work.
First, he secured interest from the Prairie State Railroad Club and Plowman’s Park. With interest from both parties confirmed, he presented his project idea to the Boy Scout District Advancement Committee, that gave its approval.
With the Scouts’ approval, he returned to the PSRC board of directors and then the Plowman’s Park board of directors and presented his project.
Upon receiving approval from the club and the park, Werderich then needed approval from the village of Big Rock. He submitted the required permit application to the village, and was invited to present it before the board.
He presented his project to the village and received the Mayor’s approval along with a $1,000 donation from the village.
The next step was to submit the plans to the Kane County Building Department for approval. The building department deemed the station a commercial structure, which would require a planner’s approval and an architectural stamp.
Werderich was originally quoted $2,600 for the architectural stamp by Menards, but came in contact with Norris Architects of St. Charles who agreed to look over and approve the plans pro bono.
Once Werderich and his team have submitted the approved plans and received the permit, all that will be left to do before construction can begin is fundraising and buying materials.
The first fundraiser was April 24, at the Yorkville American Legion. Werderich’s father said the amount of community support they received blew his mind.
“People turned out in droves,” he said.
Members from many community groups came to show support, including the mayor, county board chairman, regional superintendent of schools and his baseball coach at Yorkville High School.
Up next is an event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 11, at Plowman’s Park, where guests will be able to take train rides on steam and diesel engines provided by the Werderichs and other members of the PSRC, and picnic in the park with free hot dogs and lemonade.
Werderich said he hopes the fact that people will be in the park and see exactly where their money is going will inspire generosity in potential donors.
Fundraising is going well so far, and Werderich said he is confident that after the event in Plowman’s Park, he will have the funds he needs to get the station built.
Information about Werderich, his project and upcoming events can be found on his project webpage, prairiestaterr.com/eagle-scout-project-hosted-by-george-werderich-jr.