Dave Chasco: Passionate Railfan, Model Train Enthusiast and Longtime Volunteer
Dave Chasco’s childhood memories, career, vacations and volunteer work have been inspired by trains–both real and model-sized.
As a dedicated, volunteer at the North Carolina Railway Museum (NCRM), which is home to New Hope Valley Railway (NHVR), Dave now enjoys sharing his longtime love of trains with visitors of all ages.
“I don’t ever remember not liking trains,” says Dave, who grew up in Milwaukee, Wis.
His grandfather, father and three uncles were all employed by the Chicago and North Western Railway (C&NW), a railroad in the Midwestern United States that operated until in the mid-1990s. Dave says he and his younger brother grew up in the rail yards of the C&NW and remembers riding in the railroad’s cabooses and steam and diesel locomotive cabs as a child.
“In the 50s, there was a local tavern in downtown Milwaukee near the Chicago and North Western Railway’s rail yard and while my dad would gabble with the guys, my brother and I would get an orange soda and go in the back room to look at the large model train layout,” says Dave.
He has enjoyed model railroading from an early age. When he was seven, his parents bought him and his brother a Lionel model train to share, which they eventually gifted to Dave, so it could also be enjoyed by his son and eventually his daughter.
In the 1970s, Dave joined the Milwaukee Lionel Railroad Club, a nonprofit organization for model railroad enthusiasts, where he eventually became the club’s president and helped establish the group’s first meeting location beyond the basements of members.
Today, Dave still enjoys model railroading and runs his personal model trains on a unique track layout in his home.
Even the Chascos’ vacations included trips to tourist, scenic or historic railroads. Dave and his wife Carmen have visited almost every railroad east of the Mississippi River and their children enjoyed family trips where they got to ride trains and visit large train layouts when they were younger.
“Over the years, Carmen and I have visited railroads in every state except for Oklahoma and unfortunately, some of them don’t exist anymore,” he explains.
In his professional life, Dave worked as a mechanical engineer and his career brought him and Carmen to the Triangle in 1999. Shortly after their move, Carmen bought him an Operate-a-Loco opportunity from NCRM as a birthday present (a program still offered today). This was his first exposure to the all-volunteer railway.
“Initially, I volunteered to help with track maintenance in the winter, which is nicknamed ‘The Bonsal Athletic Club’ because of its demanding physical labor,” he says. “I lost 25 pounds my first year doing track work.”
Dave officially became a member of the Museum in 2006 and has held many volunteer positions over the years. He’s volunteered as a car host, been responsible for NHVR’s Federal Railroad Administration reporting, compiled databases of ridership and operating history, and worked as the organization’s marketing director.
As marketing director, he and the organization’s president at that time developed and implemented the railway’s popular Brew ‘n’ Choo rides, a family-friendly event where passengers age 21 and up can enjoy an alcoholic drink and a train ride. Dave was responsible for finding local breweries, wineries, food trucks and live bands to participate in the event. During this time, he also volunteered as the palm reader and fortune teller during the railway’s Track or Treat: Halloween Express rides.
Today, Dave helps drivers find their way in the railway’s parking lot while Carmen assists visitors in the ticket office. He said his favorite part about all the positions he’s held is interacting with the people who visit the railway.
“For many of our older passengers, a visit to our railway is a trip down memory lane but for some of our younger visitors it’s often their first time riding a train.” explains Dave. “It’s rewarding when people come up and tell me what a great day they had.”
He says the NCRM is a destination that should be preserved for future generations.
“The Museum and railway not only educate visitors, but also serve as a fun outdoor activity for the entire family,” says Dave. “From riding a real train to viewing the garden railway, a visit to the Triangle’s Train offers a unique experience for every age group.”
COL Chris Tilley: Dedicated to a Lifetime of Military and Nonprofit Service
From parachuting out of airplanes to scuba diving in the Florida Keys, Colonel Chris Tilley has had many adventures. But the sixteen-year volunteer of The North Carolina Railway Museum (NCRM), home to New Hope Valley Railway, says operating a steam engine is the most exciting thing he’s ever done.
“Even more exhilarating than jumping out of planes,” says COL Tilley, who serves as president of the NCRM where the Triangle’s Train offers excursion rides on vintage equipment.
In October, he is retiring from 37 years in the U.S. Army (active and reserve). He will remain in his full-time job in the civil service for a few more years– a career he’s had since 1993. His wife Gina will also retire in a few years from her job as a civil engineer with the State of North Carolina.
Retirement will allow more time to volunteer at the railway as well as travel with Gina in their retirement home on wheels–a large, fifth-wheel camper. He also wants to finish the book he’s writing on how to model freight train cars.
Chris was born in Atlanta, Georgia. He grew up near several railroad lines and often visited Stone Mountain Park with his family to enjoy the standard gauge railroad that circles the mountain’s perimeter.
At age six he got his first model railroad and has been hooked ever since—so much so that he has built a 24’ x 24’ building on his property to house his model train collection.
He graduated from high school and went to North Georgia College where it was required for all males to serve in the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
“Active duty military service wasn’t my initial plan, but I made it through college and received a commission in the Army,” COL Tilley explained. He was stationed in Germany and then at Ft. Bragg when he completed eight years of active duty.
Once out of active duty, he transferred to the Army Reserve and stayed there for 29 years, serving one weekend a month and two-to-three weeks a year in various places such as Homestead, Florida, after Hurricane Hugo to help rebuild.
His civil service career began 27 years ago. For many of those years, he was an administrator for his Army Reserve unit in Greensboro, N.C. and was responsible for personnel issues.
Chris and his family live in Pittsboro, not far from Lake Jordan where they like to go boating. They’re close enough to the New Hope Valley Railway to hear the steam engine whistle. While hanging holiday lights years ago, he heard the train whistle, tracked down where it was (pun intended) and has been a member and volunteer ever since.
He has two adult sons and college-age twins–daughter Mikayla Tilley and son Tilley Casselberry who are finishing school at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. His family has joined him in the rail yard as volunteers helping with the Halloween and Santa train rides. Gina has been a flying witch and Frostie the Snowgal to entertain visitors.
He believes New Hope Valley Railway plays a vital role in keeping railroad history top-of-mind for today’s youth, as well as those who remember the era of steam engines.
Much of the historic railroad equipment at NCRM was on U.S. military bases before finding a home in the rail yard. All four of the railway’s passenger excursion cars were built from flat rail cars that were used to haul tanks and other heavy equipment from Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., and the museum exhibit car and gift shop was originally a kitchen car for troop trains during World War II.
“Our educationally focused nonprofit brings together a diverse bunch of great volunteers who lend their skill sets and talents to keep the spirit of railroading alive for future generations,” said COL Tilley. “Our volunteers are our most important asset.”
Mike MacLean: Once a Paid Employee, Now a Vintage Railroad Volunteer
A volunteer since 2002 for the North Carolina Railway Museum, home of the New Hope Valley Railway (NHVR), Mike MacLean once held paying jobs with a mountain tourist railway and freight railroad company.
The NHVR museum and trains are 100 percent operated and maintained by volunteers. Mike and the many other volunteers who work there share a passion for trains and a dedication to preserve the local treasure known as the Triangle’s Train.
Like most of those who give up a significant amount of their free time to work in the rail yard, Mike’s love of trains dates to his childhood in the suburbs of Texas.
“We lived near a railroad. We couldn’t see the trains from where we lived, but whenever we heard them my father and I would jump in the pickup truck to go watch them pass by. He thought it was just a fad, but years later I’m still into trains,” explains Mike.
While a junior at NC State University, Mike found a weekend job that paid him for his love and knowledge of trains at a mountain tourist railroad. Perfect for the train lover, it was a 600-mile round trip from Raleigh to the railroad’s shop.
“I put 90,000 miles on my car in two years while I worked there,” Mike says.
Mike was hired by the tourist railroad to be a car host. He soon went on to work in “every job they had.” He was a dishwasher on the dinner train, a crew leader, conductor and his longest held job as hostler. Mike explains that a hostler is best described in modern terms as “a night watchman.”
The term originates from the middle ages when people would ride a horse into town, stay at the inn and give their horse to the hostler who would groom it, feed it and put in the barn overnight before returning it to its owner the next morning. The term transferred to those who took care of iron horses so when the train crew arrived the engines would be ready to go.
“I’d leave the Triangle on Friday afternoon and arrive at the railroad shop in the evening. I’d wash the engine, clean the cab, fuel it, oil it, grease it and get it ready for its run the next day. I’d work until 6 a.m., stay at a hotel during the day or crash on a friend’s couch and do that same shift Saturday night then drive back to Raleigh on Sunday morning,” Mike says.
While a senior in college he got an IT internship with a company in Research Triangle Park and eventually hired on full time while continuing to work weekends at the railroad.
Mike’s train journey continued when he left his job in RTP in 2000 to take a job in Kansas with a major class 1 railroad. While he enjoyed the experience, he missed the South and moved back to the Triangle after a year and decided to look for train opportunities closer to home. That’s when he discovered New Hope Valley Railway in Bonsal—30 miles southwest of Raleigh and a much closer drive for Mike.
During the nearly 20 years he’s been a volunteer for the Triangle’s Train, Mike has served on the Board of Directors beginning in 2006, was Board President from 2012 – 2015, and is now head of the Steam department. His biggest task is leading the “Steam Team” that is repairing Steam Engine #17 that is currently out-of-service due to a mandated, 15-year, Federal Railroad Administration inspection.
Mike believes NHVR is the perfect venue to show and tell people the story of railroading.
“This is one of the few places where someone can get close to a steam engine,” Mike says. “We’re a unique venue where families can create memories riding a train and at the same time learn about an important mode of transportation that played a key role in American history.”
Mike now shares his love of trains with his own family—his very patient wife Amy and his two young daughters.