Train buffs are kings of scale-model world SOUTHWEST -- Mount Airy * Woodbine * Taylorsville * Winfield

February 05, 1993|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

Some guys just never grow up, although they won't admit it.

"We don't play with trains -- we run a railroad for the public interest, necessity and convenience," said Ralph Metz, feigning indignation.

Mr. Metz is a member of the Four County Society of Model Engineers, a club of some 20 frustrated train engineers, who meet weekly in Mount Airy to enjoy their own little scale-model world.

On the floor above Dennison's Trackside Hobbies at 2 S. Main St. is an HO-gauge model train layout some 35 feet long and 17 feet wide representing the run from Baltimore to Hagerstown, then to Wheeling, W.Va., and Pittsburgh.

"What we've done is make a representation of a transportation system with the objective to represent real traffic that a railroad would run," said Dan Rousseau, club president. "We picked the 1950s time frame because that's what most modelers choose, when the steam engine started on its way out and the diesel really came in after World War II."

The club will open its layout for the public from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow during one of its quarterly open houses. Admission is free but donations will be accepted.

The layout, with towns scattered along the way between the hills, features passenger and freight lines as well as steam and diesel locomotives. The club owns about a dozen locomotives, 100 freight cars and 20 passenger cars that run on some 1,000 feet of track in a loop.

The trains come out of a staging area in a small room behind the large layout on two levels, the lower being Baltimore and the upper Pittsburgh. Following the Baltimore and Ohio railroad line, the route splits in Hagerstown, one line going to Wheeling and the other back to Pittsburgh.

"The trains head west out of Baltimore to a small town we call Patapsco Valley, representative of Ellicott City, Sykesville type towns, to Mount Airy as it never was," Mr. Rousseau said.

Laughing, he added, "That's why we made up our own town, so we could take artistic license and historical liberty."

While he described the project at Tuesday night's meeting, other members fabricated scenery, cleaned the tracks, or worked on the multicolored bunches of electrical wires.

All the while, good-natured banter drifted from one end of the room to the other.

"This is an unpopular job," Mr. Metz said from under the edge of the layout, where he connected the wiring for a section of track.

Later, when Ron Limparis, another electrician for the club, lost power to his train, he blamed Mr. Metz for cutting a wire. But they worked together to fix the problem.

How long has the project has been going on? "How long did it take to build the pyramids?" said Jim McLaughlin, secretary-treasurer.

The club members say part of the fun of a model-train layout is planning the route, designing the cities and scenery and setting up trains, and then changing it all to something completely different.

"It's like painting a picture, of a certain time, a certain railroad, and you have to have all the elements to make it work," Mr. Rousseau said.

In addition to the large layout, the club has started a second project, Mr. Rousseau said. To re-create Hagerstown from 1940 to 1960, members are making modular railroads; that is, small layouts on squares that can be put together and taken apart, but that show visual continuity and authenticity of the scene.

"Model railroading is a lot of fun," he said. "I've been model-building since I was a kid, but this is better because you can do something with it."

Anybody can be a railroad modeler, they say. Club members are architects, electrical engineers, sporting goods shop owners and variety of other professions. Although no real train engineers belong to the 12-year-old club.

The club welcomes new members of all interests and experience. If you like trains, but don't know much about them, club members will teach you.

Dues are $60 a year and meetings are held at 7 p.m. Tuesdays at Dennison's. Information: Dan Rousseau, (301) 696-7062, or Dave Markland, (301) 916-9695.

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