Hobby becomes gift for charity

Bob Beglin worked years to perfect tiny railroad town

Raffle benefits food bank

November 11, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County Food Sunday is accustomed to generous donations as the holidays approach, but this year the charity is getting an entire town - a tiny one, for sure, but one many consider valuable.

D. Robert Beglin, an 81-year-old retiree, built a replica of a mid-20th-century railroad town in the basement of his Westminster home. He has offered it to Food Sunday.

"This is the thing to do with it," the longtime collector said. "Somebody will benefit in some way from it. For somebody who likes to collect, this is a real prize."

The town sits atop a 32-square-foot platform. There are five N-gauge trains, which travel around a town nestled against a tree-filled mountain. The engines whir past a lake, an airport, a lumber yard, a church, factories, cozy subdivisions and a bustling Main Street - all peopled with figures not quite a half-inch tall.

"N-gauges are small enough to do a gigantic railroad operation on top of a card table," said Wiley Purkey, who owns a model train store in Sykesville. "They are very popular because of the detail people can put into them. And, they are very valuable. One engine alone can be $100."

Food Sunday traditionally raffles off a train to raise money to fill its many holiday requests, but usually it is a Lionel with a few accessories, never anything as elaborate as Beglin's gift.

"We knew we had an incredible gift that is quite a work of love," said Derek Anderson, director of the all-volunteer charity, which began in the 1980s and assists about 16,000 Carroll households a year. "We have never had anything to the intricacy and degree that Bob has put together."

Beglin said, "I decided to save the food bank the time in building one. It is a great organization that we contribute to every year. This is another contribution, only one they can raffle off."

Building the town around the trains became a favorite pastime for Beglin, who moved to Westminster about 11 years ago.

"The real fun is in building something like this, and I built it all from scratch," said Beglin, who gave up tracking the hours and dollars spent on his hobby long ago. "I started with an engine and a couple of cars and then added and added. It is hard to stop. I can think back to when I built this or that."

So intricate is this town, completely surrounded by a split-rail fence, that it has utility wires running to miniature houses, lighted telephone booths and street lamps and a few women hanging laundry in their back yards. A waterwheel churns into a creek that feeds the town lake, a glistening pond with sand and stones lining its bottom. There a catamaran sails, anglers fish and "bathing beauties" line the shore.

"The people came naked, so I painted their clothes on, including the lady in red crossing the tracks at the mine camp," Beglin said. "I made all the trees for the mountain and used the remainder to make shrubs for the houses.

"My hands are still steady enough to tinker," he said. "This was just a way to fill my time. I would find something and then find a place for it. It was either that or watch TV."

The unnamed town features a fire station, a power plant, a coal mine with a miners' camp, a junkyard, and atop the mountain, a log cabin with a man chopping wood. There is Patrick's Pub and Carroll County Bank - "I should have changed the name to BB&T, when the bank was sold here," he said.

Orchards, farms and shops dot the landscape. Beglin added high-rise apartments, homes in various stages of construction and "a fellow having sewer problems and putting in a new line," Beglin said.

A swing hangs from an oak tree. This town boasts a miniature golf course, tennis courts and playgrounds. Billboards advertise Coca-Cola and Ford motor cars - a product dear to the Beglin family whose fourth generation runs a dealership established by Beglin's father in Beaver, Pa.

Many vehicles line the roads and driveways, nearly all of them Fords, including an Explorer hauling a trailer and several Model-T's, like the real one in Beglin's garage. Tracks run in front of a miniature Beglin Motor Sales, its showroom and lot filled with vintage autos.

Three sturdy sawhorses brace the platform. Beglin glued everything on top, save the trains and tracks, but he knows his creation is somewhat fragile. He does not want to be home when Food Sunday volunteers carry it off.

"That is the only thing he asked us," said Anderson. "He does not want to be there when we move it."

It is not just sentimental attachment motivating the request; Beglin knows first-hand how difficult the task may be. Anderson said he has a construction crew up to the task.

Food Sunday plans to display the train garden at TownMall of Westminster through the holiday season and sell tickets for $1 a chance.

"We have a great location near the food court and the movie theaters," said Anderson. "I think we will get a lot of traffic and sell a lot of tickets."

In the past four years of train raffles, Food Sunday has raised about $21,000. Beglin's donation might just top that, organizers said.

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