A Model View Of Md. History

Anniversary: The Severna Park railroad club celebrates turning 40 with an open house featuring its miniature panorama display.

April 29, 2005|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If you could choose any place to build a model train display, where would it be? Inside an old railroad station, of course. The Severna Park Model Railroad Club's model train display in the old Baltimore & Annapolis Railway Station in Old Severna Park is likely to bring a nostalgic tear to the eyes of adult observers and light a spark of excitement in the hearts of the young.

To help celebrate the club's 40th anniversary, the public is invited to an open house from noon to 5 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

Visitors will see the club's fully operational HO gauge model train display featuring big-city and small-town activity, farming, mining and industry, all to the sweet clickity-clack rhythm of the train - called "Maryland In Miniature."

Recognized for its authenticity, complexity and beauty, the miniature panorama of Maryland history and geography has been featured in five articles in Model Railroader magazine and was chosen four times to be on the magazine's cover.

Visitors to the display enter a world that measures roughly 12 feet by 36 feet, where miniature mountains, rivers and valleys, harbors, mining and milling fill the tiny, one-room station house. For some, the display provides a sentimental journey to Christmas gardens remembered, for others a virtual reality trip around the state.

The train cars are roughly half the size of the old Lionel trains that some children used to love when their parents set them up under the Christmas tree, says Sam Shepherd, club president and a driving force in the club since its inception.

A retired Westinghouse engineering manager, Shepherd designed the layout and installed the tracks. Logan Holtgrewe, a doctor who teaches urology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, brought the designs to life, constructing the hills and valleys, and using an airbrush to give the train cars an authentic look.

To prepare for the display, charter club members scoured the Mid-Atlantic region for inspiration, taking photographs of steel mills and historic buildings. One member, says Shepherd, took pictures of five different mills near Pittsburgh and made a composite for the mill in the display that is 13 feet long. At one point, he says, club members "beat the wrecking ball by less than a week" in Fells Point, taking photos of old buildings that inspired the look of the display's business district they call Chesapeake City.

The club has grown from its original handful of men to nearly 30 members that include a couple of women, Shepherd says.

Unlike her girlfriends, club member Diann Snyder grew up loving bridges, architecture and trains. She would leave her dolls at home, she says, and go play with the neighborhood boys who had trains at their houses. Her greatest joy was to visit one of her neighbors who let her run the model steam trains he built. By day, Snyder is director of nursing and an administrator at Johns Hopkins Hospital, but she says if she were ever given a chance at a second career, she would be a structural engineer.

A few years ago, when she and her son, David, whose love of trains kept "a running layout in the middle of the living room from the time he was 4 years old," were biking along the Hike and Bike Trail in Severna Park, they stopped at an open house at the train station. Snyder and her son recognized kindred spirits and joined the club.

They also take part in a unique train aficionado pastime called "rail fanning" - sitting at track sites and taking pictures as the trains come through. "It's lots of fun," she says, "especially for a mother and son."

When the club was organized in 1965, it needed a place for meetings and a space that would allow for the large model train display members wanted to construct. At the same time, the Severna Park Improvement Association was looking for someone to rent the old station at the corner of McKinsey Road and Holly Avenue in the heart of Old Severna Park. And so, a deal was struck.

But the little red-brick station house wasn't always as accommodating as the building rented by the model train hobbyists. It was originally an 8-foot by 10-foot shed, like a bus stop, Shepherd says. Many early residents of Severna Park commuted by train to Baltimore to work, but if someone forgot to put up the flag to stop the train, it never even slowed down as it sped by.

According to Shepherd, when the residents appealed to the railroad to build a station, the answer was that "Severna Park was really not big enough." So, the city fathers said, "If we build a station, will you stop the train?" The railroad executives said they would, and in 1919 a small version of the existing station was built. Six years later, the size was doubled, becoming the building that stands today. And, just as when it was built, the building has no running water.

The model railroad club meets at 8 p.m. Thursdays at the train station. For club information, call 410-647-6077.

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