ALPENA - Members of the Northern Michigan Railroad Club met for a two-day holiday party, where they shared their unique hobby and their love of trains.
The group met in Alpena on Friday and Saturday, at Ron Cady's home, where he has been hosting the club's traditional holiday party for years.
"I've been having the holiday party here every December; I would say that this party draws most attendance. This year we broke up the party into two days because we couldn't accommodate everyone at once," Cady said.
According to Cady, the railroad club started close to 30 years ago and has been growing in popularity ever since.
"We get together once a month and meet at different locations. We have members from all over Michigan who like trains. There were 60 people who were interested in our organization this year, and they are all interested in preservation and railroad history," he said.
Guests who received a formal invitation were welcomed into Cady's home where a film was shown in his basement movie theatre, which he calls the Ritz Theatre.
"Part of the basement is restored like the Ritz. I bought old Alpena High School theatre seats and some from Cheboygan. I took the best seats, but I still had to chisel off all of the old gum," Cady said.
John Ryan helped Cady redesign the look of the theatre ceiling, which he said took an entire summer to complete, working 12-hour, non-stop days.
"I did the designing and I built about half of it. It's neat, we can show films, digital, and television shows in the theatre room," Ryan said.
Cady said the theatre is just about done, but he is still working on aisle lighting. The holiday party primarily took place downstairs in the theatre and in the lounge, which is where most of the trains were set up.
"There are 25-30 different trains set up in here. I really like trains, this room is surrounded by different memorabilia," said Cady, adding one of the oldest is a Railway Express Wagon, which is also known as a baggage cart, built in 1909. He uses it as a buffet table.
Guests ate dinner in the lounge while enjoying the train memorabilia and intricate setup. After dinner the group watched different presentations about railroads and showed photos they have taken.
The party also had Harvey Girls, which were famous in the 1880s for working at station stops and restaurants along the Santa Fe railroad.
"This all happened before there were dining carts. Passengers would get off and go to the Harvey House restaurant where they would be served by all female staff, with bows in their hair and black shoes. They had to be clean and perfect, thee were strict rules," Cady said.
However, as time went on foods were served on trains, and the Harvey Girls and the station stops closed down.
"It lasted for about 80 or 90 years before they closed down. I thought it would be a neat idea to have Harvey Girls at our party," Cady said.
Mary Ann Vansipe and Betty Thom were dressed like Harvey Girls for the party, where they welcomed guests and played the old-fashioned role.
"We are excited to be Harvey Girls tonight, it's our first time doing something like this," Thom said.
Guests appreciated the aesthetics, time and effort Cady put into his holiday party. People traveled from all over Michigan to take part in celebrating the holidays with the Northeast Michigan Railroad Club.
"This is a special time of year, we're celebrating trains and the holidays," said Dennis Croft of Wolverine.
Dave Moore of Alpena said he appreciated how Cady hosts the holiday party and particularly enjoys the theatre and presentations.
"This is one of our largest parties. It's more festive than the other ones, and everyone tries to make it," said Cathy Moore.
Gary Sample, who traveled from Northville, said he enjoys getting together with his friends and celebrating the season and their love of trains.
"This home is a model railroad. He structured his basement around trains and movies, " said Ron Kurtz of Alanson.
Paul Duesing of Sault Ste. Marie said the club existed before 1981 and still meets once a month.
"This is a special holiday get-together, there are typically a few more people at this party and it's more formal. I would say it's one of the highlights of the year. He just keeps raising the bar every year," Duesing said.
Later on in the evening, Sherry Duesing presented to the group a quilt that she made in remembrance of group members who have died.
"The quilt is going to reside in Ron's home, but it's for all of us. Ron puts together a membership list each year and on the back he lists deceased members. This year, there were 25," she said.
According to her husband, Paul, she was also inspired to make the quilt after her mother died two years ago.
"I remember taking her mother to a meeting, she was my date. She was older then, but she became part of our club and everyone loved her and welcomed her," Paul said.
Sherry presented the quilt and said by the time she finishes it, she would have put around 30 hours into the project. She wants to finish the outside border and bind it together.
The Northern Michigan Railroad Club began in November 1877, which was when Cady said they became an official group. The club did not have many members then, but it has continuously grown. People come from all over Michigan to enjoy time with people who have similar passions in railroad history, trains and preservation.
Emily Siegmon can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5687.