Model Train Lovers are Making Tracks for the National Train Show in Town This Weekend Print E-mail

Billed as the North America’s largest, it is part of the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) annual convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Delaware County Times
July 7, 2006

Larry Loyko’s love of model trains came from his grandfather, who worked for the B & O Railroad in Philadelphia.

"I had a Lionel train set as a boy," said Loyko, who lives in Glenolden."When Christmas was over I never wanted to take it down.Then one day we never did.I have HO, N-scale and the G-scale which is a railway in my garden."

He is part of a joint effort between four model train clubs in the region that will be presenting one of the larger modular concepts at the show.

"We take the childhood fascination and show how the hobby has evolved," said Chris O’Brien, the modular coordinator for the show."Many of the layouts are like a time capsule, where the scenes reflect those long ago life and times."

Each year, the show travels to a different city and state. Targeted to model train collectors and enthusiasts, the convention garners worldwide attention, with attendees from as far away as Canada, Japan and Germany. More than 12,000 train enthusiasts are expected to walk through the doors.

The first miniature trains appeared shortly after the full-sized ones started thundering down the rails in the 19th century.Trains have played a primary role in Philadelphia’s history. Home to the legendary Pennsylvania and B&O Railroads, today bystanders continue to be inspired by the rumble of the rails of CSX and Norfolk-Southern freight trains, while passengers are whisked to their destination by Amtrak.There are roughly 1.5 million domestic freight and passenger cars in operation today.

The 16th annual National Train Show features 180,000 square feet of display space, including a special 46,000 square feet -- two football fields’ worth -- dedicated to more than 20 simultaneously operating model train displays.Visitors will revel in a wonderland of imagination, design and skill.

The all-encompassing show hosts nearly 200 exhibitors, mostly manufacturers and dealers from the tri-state region, but also as far away as England and Australia.They will feature endless displays of scale model trains, toy trains, tracks, scenery, building kits, scale collectors’ models, tools, books, videos, software, sound systems, electronics, memorabilia and other train-related items. There is even a Lego’s Fantasyland that showcases more than two million Lego blocks fashioned to create railways, vehicles, well-known American landmarks and stunning backdrops.

Working with model trains had been an escape from his work in pharmaceuticals for Dave Messer of Royersford. "As a kid I started out with American Flyers, while my best friend had Lionel trains," he recalled. "I always felt that American Flyer was more realistic.It was the subject of endless debates."

Over the years Messer never outgrew his fascination with model trains. Modeling in the HO gauge, which is 3.5 millimeters to the foot, or 1/87 of the real size, his walk around layout is on the perimeter of a 15-foot by 30-foot room.The layout is a "hypothetical version" of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The train cars, vehicles, small town and countryside are all consistent with a Pennsylvania scene from the early summer of 1957. A brilliant blue sky with puffy clouds and a landscape of rolling hills and farmland brightens one of his walls.

"The hills in the layout are created from plaster-impregnated gauze, the stuff they used to make casts out of," said Messer, 67, now retired."All the structures are scratch built.My locomotives are modeled after the first generation of diesel engines."

Making landscapes are one of the most challenging aspects of model train layouts.Take towering trees. A cut and rounded roof shingle makes a suitable trunk. Holes are drilled and filled with air ferns from the craft store to simulate the branches of leaves, putting the short stubs on top and the long ones at the bottom.

"If a child or adult gets involved with model trains as a hobby, they can learn about all kinds of things," said Messer, "such as mechanics, carpentry, electricity, geography, mathematics, history and art."

Tony’s Train Exchange, the world’s largest dealer of digital command controls, is attending its 12th National Train Show.At Tony Parisi’s booth, people will see the latest in digital command controls which allows the operation of multiple locomotives independent of each other at the same time with varying speeds and directions on the same electrically controlled section of track.

"Operation is far more exciting with each train running independently than with the traditional power pack," said Ken Varall, national sales manager. "You can match the speeds of locomotives from different manufacturers. You can program realistic acceleration and deceleration rates, limit the top speed of a locomotive, even control the sound. All you need is the DCC system and an engine with a DCC decoder"

Richard Crooks, of Morton says he’ll be at the train show to promote model trolleys. A member of the Philadelphia-based East Penn Traction Club, club members build individual modulars at home and then assemble them at the show.

"My grandfather worked for J. G. Brill Co., the premier manufacturer of traction trolley equipment," said Crooks. "He never drove.We would jump on the trolley and head downtown.He’s been my inspiration to teach other folks about the history, preservation and restoration of model trolleys."

Much of the popularity of model railroads can be attributed to the hands-on aspect that kids and grown-up kids enjoy.

"You always picture a model railroad around the Christmas tree. It’s an enduring picture," said Mary Sudasassi, spokeswoman for the NMRA.

One of the fastest growing aspects of the hobby is garden railways. A well-crafted garden railway creates an amazing atmosphere, far beyond what is possible with a traditional indoor layout.Outdoors the mountains are made of dirt and stone, rivers run with water while slower-growing plants with finer textures are the backdrop. Railways add the same elements to a garden that wildlife does --motion, color and sound.

The current resurgence in popularity of garden railroading is due in large part to thecolorful LGB (Lehmann Grossbahn) trains from German.LGB specifically designed its rugged trains with outdoor use in mind, encapsulating the more fragile and motor parts to keep dirt out. As more American-style trains were built, garden railways began to spring up all over the country.

"The real magic is blending the trains in with your plants and surrounding landscapes," said Loyko, who says there are four layouts in his neighborhood."I’ve got buildings, bridges, tunnels, trestles and even tiny people.It stays up all winter.After a snowfall it looks like a miniature winter wonderland."


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