Tiny trains leave big impression at exhibit

January 03, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - In the scaled-down world inside the Cumberland Valley Railroad Club, tiny trains click and clack in loops through imaginary towns and villages, past grain elevators, factories, storefronts and a garage where a man no taller than a thumbnail uses an arc welder under an aging automobile.

Anna Scaggs of Fayetteville, Pa., held up grandson Zachary Sealfon so he could get a better view of a miniature fairground with working rides, one of the many layouts and modules constructed by club members.

"It inspires us to do more," Scaggs said, noting she and her husband, Dave, have a train set at home that is more than half a century old.


The Scaggs were among the hundreds of people who have visited the club's headquarters at 440 Nelson St. for the annual open house since it began Dec. 11. Vice President Bill Robinson said 556 people jammed the building the day after Christmas.

The club's doors will be open to the public again from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Joshua Lionel Cowen started the company - Lionel - that most people identify with the model train hobby at the dawn of the 20th century, said club member John Stamm. His own collection includes hefty standard-gauge pieces that date to the early 1920s, including Lionel and Ives, a competitor that Lionel later bought, he said.

One 1923 engine is totally original and still runs, Stamm said. It can be an expensive passion, however, with coaches he bought in 1965 for $15 going for $250 or more today, he said.

"I haven't bought any like that in a long, long, long time," said the retired pastor, who now spends more of his efforts on restoring vintage pieces. Stamm said he once owned 75 locomotives, "but I didn't know that until my wife counted them."

There are more than 5,000 pieces of standard, G, H, HO and N gauge model railroad locomotives and rolling stock at the headquarters, Robinson said. The engines, freight cars, oil cars, coal cars, flat cars and little red cabooses run along more than 50 scale miles of track, he said.

"In actual feet, there's more than half a mile of track," said Robinson, whose club will mark its 10th anniversary in April.

While members enjoy collecting and running model trains, much of their efforts and imagination go into the layouts. Club president John Norris said building one can take months, but the creators might tinker with them for years "to get it to where you want it to be."

Some of the more fanciful layouts have trains passing through sets inspired by the "Jurassic Park" and "Harry Potter" film series.

"We do bias this whole thing toward kids at Christmastime," Norris said.

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