This weekend, inside the clubhouse of the Anthracite Model Railroad Society, rail fans can see over half-dozen HO model trains, each pulling up to 30 cars crisscross nearly 3,000 square feet of recreated northeastern landscape.
The Anthracite Model Railroad Society opens the doors of its clubhouse at 1056 Hanover Court in Hazleton on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 7-8; and Jan. 14-15 as part of its holiday season open house. Hours are Saturdays from noon-7 p.m., and Sunday from 1-5 p.m.
"When guests come in the front door they will see a representation of Jim Thorpe around the time that the town changed it name from Mauch Chunk," said Jim Hoegg, president of the AMRS. "Around the side of the layout they will see a representation of the Jim Thorpe, Glen Onoko, the Packerton Yard and Bethlehem Steel."
On the upper level is a recreation of Hazleton, Weatherly, the Ashmore roundhouse, and a mining scene from the patch town of Drifton. Most of the models are of the 20-year period between the mid-1930s and the mid-1950s.
The model railroad layout is 32-foot by 45-foot on each of two levels. The AMRS purchased its building in 1999. After a year of renovation, it began construction of the layout in 2000, and has been wiring, building scenery, installing track, and having fun operating model trains for the past 12 years.
Hoegg's grandfather was a carpenter for the Lehigh Valley Railroad.
"My father worked in the Ashmore Roundhouse until steam was phased out in the early 1950s and he got laid off. I vaguely remember the steam age, but as a kid, I was fascinated by the moving parts.
"The guys on the trains were pretty friendly and would let us sneak a ride," he recalls.
All the model exhibits were made by AMRS members, currently numbering 35. Some make scenery. Others enjoy wiring. Hoegg likes to lay track.
"We glue down individual ties and spike down individual spikes," he said. "Close to 80 percent of our track is hand-laid."
The tracks, as well as the trains and the scenery meet the HO specification of 7th of full scale.
"Older people tell us that we really nailed it in terms of the accuracy of the scenes," said AMRS member Dave Orbin. "People from Hazleton tell us that it looks like the town in the 1940s. People from Jim Thorpe tell us that Mauch Chunk looks very much like present Jim Thorpe. Kids tell us they are glad to be here and sometimes there parents have to drag them out the door kicking and screaming because they really enjoyed the trains and didn't want to leave."
For instance, the Mauch Chunk model incorporates buildings that were photographed and measured, then constructed from individual sticks to form the picturesque town squeezed into a mountainscape, with its salient feature the Jersey Central Railroad station model.
In the world of railroad modeling, where small is beautiful, 91-year old Walter Herman Eckard of Jim Thorpe is a master craftsman. His model of Mauch Chunk's New Jersey Central Railroad Station was completed in 2008, after 18 months of painstaking detailed work. He studied plans, records and photographs dating back to 1905.
The amount of detail that Eckard put into the model is incredible. For instance, eight large and 16 small Victorian designed brackets are used to support the roof. Eckard built one of each style, and then used silicone rubber to make patterns of the brackets before finally casting the new brackets in epoxy resin.
"There's a lot of love put into this," said Eckard of the intricately detail model of the circa 1930s railroad station. "I was very serious about it."
The open house is free. Donations are accepted. For more information, visit amrclub.org.
Directions to the Anthracite Model Railroad Society:
Take State Route 309 to West 22nd Street. Turn west at the traffic light. Continue nine blocks west to Hanover Court. There is a green street sign with white lettering on the corner. There is also a "cross buck" on that corner. Turn right (north) on Hanover Court. Travel approximately 100 yards to the north. The AMRS building is a white building on your left with a red front door.