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Students use engineering to build model railroad


Inspiring a future railroad engineer?  It’s possible at Bessemer City Middle School

For Bessemer City Middle School teacher Steven Hailey, getting students interested in engineering started nearly 20 years ago – by accident. 

“I brought in a model train to my classroom,” explained Hailey, who is an avid collector and hobbyist. “My students seemed enthusiastic about learning the components of the model train so we made it a part of the curriculum.”

The experience from years ago prompted Hailey to partner with his fellow educators at Bessemer City Middle School and teach students how to construct and operate a HO 1:87 scale model railroad.  It’s a project that has gotten a lot of attention in the school’s Technology and Industrial Engineering Academy.

Recently, the school received more than $10,000 in donations that included two model railroad layouts, tracks, a DCC (digital command control) system, railway vehicles often referred to as rolling stock, structures, and related scenery items.  In addition, the school received a $1,500 grant from Pisgah ARP Church to purchase lumber, tools, wiring, and other materials. 

“One of the two layouts came to the school nearly completed,” said Hailey, who added that it needs some minor tweaks to get everything working properly again.  “The students get the opportunity to figure out how to make it run.”

The model railway is the perfect concept to get middle school students thinking about engineering and technology concepts and their connection to the real world.  Hailey helps his students to realize how math, science, language arts, and social studies can be used in the construction of an 18’ x 24’ model railroad layout. 

“We teach radius, momentum, science, physics, and more,” said Hailey. “For example, students will learn how long it takes to slow a train when it is coming into a city.”

Students like seventh grader Colton Wray are excited to learn about engineering and get hands-on experience.

“I repaired a bridge at 1:87 scale,” explained Wray, who is in his second year at the Technology and Industrial Engineering Academy.  “I built it back to scale by using the old pieces that were damaged, and then I used the same pieces and measured it with the new board so it would work properly.”

Wray and other students are participating in the project during advisory sessions, on club days, and after school.  Groups of 6-10 students rotate every four weeks in order to allow up to 100 students to participate over the course of the school year.  

Additionally, several classes have been integrated into the railroad project.  Art classes are constructing and painting backdrops, weathering items, and building model scenery.  Computer science classes are writing code and programming the digital command controls and engines.  Students in the construction classes are building and repairing bridges for the layout. 

Hailey envisions this being a five-year project where high school students return to Bessemer City Middle School to mentor younger students in constructing and operating a model railroad.  “What better way to learn than from a former student who went through the program,” he said.

Bessemer City Middle School principal Dr. Jessica Mellon is proud of the students’ work on the model railroad.  While students are focused on the fun of the project, she says it is designed to instill the concepts of science, engineering, and technology in their minds.  And, who knows?  The school may be developing a future railroad engineer.

“We want our students to learn all they can about technology, science, and engineering while in middle school so they will have a solid foundation in these areas when they go on to high school,” said Mellon.  “When they get to Bessemer City High School, our students have many opportunities to expand their knowledge, put their skills to use, and hopefully realize that technology and engineering can be an important part of their life beyond graduation.”   

▪ Get more information
The Technology and Industrial Engineering Academy at Bessemer City Middle School creates a pathway for students to attend the Technology and Industrial Engineering Academy at Bessemer City High School.  Applications are being accepted now, and students with an interest in technology and engineering are encouraged to apply. 

Click here to learn about the program at Bessemer City Middle School.
Click here to learn about the program at Bessemer City High School.
Click here to learn about all of the school choice/magnet school programs that are available in Gaston County Schools.