Trains return to Forest Hill Hobbyist owns model train shop in old station

September 13, 1992|By Frank Lynch | Frank Lynch,Staff Writer

Trains are running through the Forest Hill railroad station once again.

Residents and passing motorists have heard faint whistles numerous times since last October, though the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad ended passenger service in 1954 and stopped operating altogether in 1958.

Legend has it that the station, built in 1914 to serve the Maryland section of the "Ma & Pa" and now owned by Ralph Klein, is inhabited by a ghost.

Some say the ghost is the spirit of someone named Francis, whose damaged tombstone was left at the station many years ago by trainmen and has been used as a doorstep at the building for years.

Charlie Getscher can account for the sound of the whistles, but as for the ghost tale, well, he's not too sure.

"I haven't heard footsteps or voices, but sometimes I do get a feeling I'm not alone in this building," said the 50-year-old owner of a model train shop that opened in the station last October.

"Whenever I feel a presence, I start up the model train I have on display and give a few blasts on the whistle. It seems to settle the spirit.

"Maybe the poor soul was someone who missed the train years ago. Whoever it is, he or she seems pleased that trains have returned to the station."

Many other countians are also pleased. A steady flow of customers has allowed the retired commercial electrician to devote much of his time to a hobby that began when his father gave him a train set for Christmas in 1948.

The Forest Hill Station offers a variety of trains, accessories and instruction manuals, along with gift items such as T-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, books and videotapes of operating model layouts.

And the station's old waiting room will soon be converted into a memorabilia museum.

"I'm going to use that area to display many of the artifacts that were originally part of the station and have been preserved by the Klein family, the building's owner," said Mr. Getscher.

He also plans to build an operating layout and use it as a meeting room for anyone who wants to talk railroading.

His customers are a mix of veteran model railroading buffs and youngsters looking to add to their starter train sets.

Mr. Getscher said his first train set "was a Lionel freight set pulled by Engine No. 6741 and, like most 6-year-olds, I played with that set for hours."

By the time he was 12, his layout had grown to 8 by 16 feet. It took up most of the basement in the family's Rosedale home in Baltimore County.

"I added a few more trains along the way," he said, "but when I graduated from high school, my interest waned and I dismantled the layout and put the trains away."

It wasn't until he married and moved to Street that he returned to model-railroading.

"When my wife, Ann, and I moved into our house, I told her the basement belonged to me," he said. "She didn't mind because she always knew where to find me. And when the children came along, it was an entertainment center for them."

Model-railroading has expanded considerably over the past 10 years. Membership in the Train Collectors Association, a non-profit organization based in Strasburg, Pa., has grown to nearly 25,000.

Tony D'Allessandro, executive director of TCA, said model train collecting is "becoming a big business."

And Harford County is home to an active HO-scale club as well as a Large Scale Society, a group of about 40 founded last spring by Madison Mitchell and Bill Oliver.

The Forest Hill Station shop operates noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, noon to 9 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

The station is usually closed Sunday and Monday, but from Thanksgiving through Christmas will remain open noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

The next time you're near the station, driving or walking, slow down and listen for the whistle. Perhaps the "spirit" will move you.

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