CASEY: Readers Excited About Neon Landmarks in Downtown Roanoke, Jan. 6 Sentence | Local News

Among those paying close attention to the dilapidation of two neon beacons on Roanoke’s downtown skyline is Jim Cosby. The retired attorney lives in Penn Forest Hills in southwestern Roanoke County.

The downtown H&C Coffee and Dr Pepper stores haven’t been fully operational for years, as I noted in an Aug. 1 column. But you can’t say the same for the miniaturized neon replicas that are part of the Cosby family’s model railroad.

My colleague, Tad Dickens, wrote an article about this for the Winter 2021 edition of SWVA Living. To say Cosby’s layout is “elaborate” would be an awful understatement.

“It’s a gem of a model railroad facility, with cars running from Roanoke to Glenvar and into the New River Valley,” Dickens wrote.

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Carefully hand-built landmarks include St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, the Roanoke Hotel, the Memorial and Wasena Bridges, the Roanoke River, and the H&C Coffee and Dr Pepper signs. It even features newsboys peddling newspapers through the streets of Roanoke.

The Cosby family model railroad began to take shape about seven decades ago, as a basic Lionel set that was a Christmas present from Cosby’s parents. However, it no longer fits on a 4×8 sheet of plywood.

Now it consumes most of a finished 12-by-25-foot room in Cosby’s basement. Most of the distinctive structures were created from kits by Cosby’s wife Noel and their three daughters. In the extended and elaborate setup, the H&C Coffee and Dr Pepper signs are animated, as they should be.

“The panels work like the originals [are supposed to] with ‘hunting models’ which can be modified but which we retain over those used by the original prototypes,” Cosby wrote in an email.

Cosby added that these replica miniature work panels are still available for purchase from the same source he used, Miller Engineering LLC in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Chris Miller, the owner of the business, told me that he started selling lighted model railroad props from the Mill Mountain Star, H&C Coffee sign and Dr Pepper signs as layout props railroad and as standalone desktop versions, in 2006.

“They were in every store there,” Miller told me Wednesday. “We also made Christmas decorations.”

Alas, Miller Engineering no longer sells Mill Mountain Star figures. But the java and pop panels are still available as model railroad accents ($36.95) or stand-alone battery-powered desktop ($32.95). You can find them on the company’s website,

Raymond Williams from Rocky Mount wrote to me about the signs for a different reason. For him, reading the column brought up memories of Mark Jamison, a Franklin County High graduate and neon artist known as “Neon Man.”

Jamison “spent countless hours working on the H&C sign to identify the repairs needed to restore the lights. Unfortunately, in 2004 he was killed in an accident while working on a neon sign in Salem,” said writes Williams, a former creative writing teacher at Franklin County High.

This tragedy inspired a solo piece, “The Neon Man & Me”, written and performed by Slash Coleman of Richmond. Coleman met Jamison when they were both students at Radford University, and they became close friends. Ultimately, it was performed at the Mill Mountain Theatre.

“The play won multiple awards and was filmed for screening on PBS,” Williams wrote. There is also a postscript to all of the above.

Coleman “donated a percentage of the play’s proceeds to Mark Jamison’s son, born after his death,” Williams noted. “His genuine humanity and kindness resonated with my students, and I felt lucky to know him and work with him.”

Williams added: “When I see the H&C sign at night I remember those experiences, and it’s good to focus on the positives in others and to remember that there are a number of people who do quietly doing good to their communities.”

Another column that ripped out some strings appeared in the August 9 edition. Its title raised this question: “Is 8 years in prison enough for this January 6 insurgent?

He was referring to former Rocky Mount Police sergeant Thomas “TJ” Robertson, who posted some rather bloody statements on social media before and after he entered the US Capitol with hundreds of others on January 6.

A jury found Robertson guilty of six felonies and misdemeanors stemming from the insurrection. After the column appeared, a federal judge sentenced Robertson to just over seven years in prison.

The first person to answer the title question was Thelma Atwell Miller of rural retirement.

“Thomas Robertson had sworn to uphold the law and not attack the government which must pass laws for the protection of all. peaceful in the first sentence and “cross it hard and violent” in the last sentence.

“I know and respect many police officers, but I wonder now, can I trust them all? This is the legacy that TJ Robertson left to citizens and the law enforcement community. Eight years is not enough time for his actions on 1/6. It leaves a stench to foul our country far into the future.

But not everyone agrees with these sentiments. One is Ronnie Kitts of Blacksburg.

“Nope [Robertson] doesn’t deserve what he got! Kitts wrote in an email. “He deserves what all the 2020 rioters got, ZERO. More deaths, millions of damage and nothing.

Kitts ends the email with, “Just keep spreading all your liberal trash!”

His retort references a popular misconception – likely popularized by right-wing outlets such as Fox News – that no one has been arrested, charged or convicted of mayhem during the protests following the police killing of George Floyd. Minneapolis police in the summer of 2020. About $2 billion in damages occurred, according to insurance industry estimates.

The myth persists even though the Associated Press and other outlets killed it months ago. USA Today verified it in February.

This article noted that in the summer of 2020, the Washington Post had tallied more than 14,000 arrests across the country following the George Floyd protests. Most of the protests were non-violent. But some were not.

Many of those arrested were charged with minor offenses such as “non-dispersion”. Many charges were later dismissed and others were pleaded. (Many of the Jan. 6 defendants have also reached plea agreements.)

But the summer 2020 protesters have also been charged with violent crimes. These crimes included arson, murder and attempted murder. A number have been convicted and are serving prison sentences.

Here’s how the Associated Press summed it up on August 30, 2021:

“A review by The Associated Press of court documents in more than 300 federal cases stemming from the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd last year shows that dozens of those charged have been convicted of serious crimes and sent to prison.

“The AP found that more than 120 defendants across the United States pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial for federal crimes, including rioting, arson, and conspiracy. More than 70 defendants who have been convicted so far have served an average of around 27 months behind bars, and at least 10 have been sentenced to prison terms of five years or more.

Hope this sets the record straight, huh?

Thanks again, readers, for all the emails, phone calls and more. Thanks for bringing them!

Contact Metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter

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