Retiree harkens back to 1953 with model train replica

Rock Hill, S.C., native Jim Faris built a miniature model railroad version of the town

Jim and Betty Faris have fond memories of the Rock Hill where they grew up. And they can visit a version of that lost time any day they want.

Jim Faris, a retired engineer and longtime owner of the Anderson Road Hobby Stop, has made a 12- by 4-foot miniature train replica of 1953 downtown Rock Hill.

Many model train hobbyists create elaborate models, but Faris’ creation is far from typical. Faris, ever the engineer, took exact measurements of Rock Hill streets and buildings and used a GPS to determine elevations.

He dug up old photographs and maps, found a 1953 city directory and even acquired the original blueprints of the Trade Street railroad station and freight yard to accurately represent businesses and other structures of the time.

Faris said he made most of the buildings by hand, cutting, painting and gluing heavy poster board and adding the details such as windows, signs and cornices.

“This is Rock Hill as I remember it when I was a teenager,” said Faris, 79, a 1956 graduate of Winthrop Training School. “It’s the Rock Hill I grew up in.”

Indeed, Faris sought such precision for his project that he chose an exact day and time for the replica he created: 3 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, 1953.

The time is significant because Ratteree’s Drugs, a stately building that stood on the corner of Main and Trade streets, wasn’t there a few months later, Faris said. It burned down on a Friday night in the fall of 1953, he said.

Faris remembers being at a football game at the stadium on Cherry Road when the fire began; he could see the flames. “It was one of the biggest fires ever in Rock Hill,” he said.

Faris said he chose a Wednesday in July 1953 because downtown Rock Hill stores closed on Wednesday afternoon, so there would have been few people on the street.

A photo and copy display about Faris’ project, including old photographs, was created by Kay Mitchell and is displayed in the clubhouse at The Village at India Hook in Rock Hill, where Faris lives.

Faris said the model covers several blocks of the area from Main Street to Oakland Avenue, including Trade Street, which was later replaced by Dave Lyle Boulevard.. It includes the train depot that was torn down when the new road was built.

“Some of it’s by memory and some of it’s by research,” he said. “Some of it I couldn’t remember and couldn’t get pictures, so I just gave it something close.”

The Main and Trade street area, he said, “is pretty accurate.”

Many of the businesses that stand in the replica would be familiar to longtime residents of Rock Hill, and some of the buildings still stand today.

The stores include J.C. Penney, Efird and Friedheim department stores, Smith and Phillips drug stores, the Stevenson, Capital and Carolina theaters, Rock Hill Hardware Co. and the J.J. Newberry Co. 5 & 10 store.

“It brings back a lot of memories,” said his wife Betty Faris, also a Rock Hill native, who said Jim worked on the model for two years. It sits on a wood base that hangs in their garage.

Faris, who worked at Chrysler, Lockheed Corp. and other companies as an engineer and manager, had made model ships before. He had never done a model train community, though Hobby Stop, managed by son Jim Faris, sells the supplies.

Faris said he has people visit his garage to see the train model, but it has never been on public display.

Said Betty Faris: “So much of that is no longer here. I think that makes it interesting.”

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