"Oh my goodness. That is fascinating," said Palmerton Area Historical Society member Peg Johnson as she entered the former Bowmanstown church which is now home to the Carbon Model Railroad Society. The visit was July 12.
The entire first floor is devoted to a massive model railroad display plus some historical artifacts. Parts of the display relate to local things such as the coal breaker but none of it is supposed to model real places exactly.
There were three main lines, the Lehigh Valley, Jersey Central and Lehigh and New England, that traveled through the area.
"We started with a box of tracks," said Garry Mack, president.
Mack welcomed everyone to the CMRS clubhouse. It was formerly the Chapel of the Holy Cross and the club got it eight years ago.
The club was formed in 1985. "We were asked to help Father Keane lay out a (model train) tourist attraction in Lehighton," said Mack.
For a while they met at the Mack residence and then rented the building that has become Pappy's Corner Store. The church was purchased with two other lots and the club looked at it as a possible home, but it was too small. Member Tom Scharpf looked up and said a second floor could double the space.
The club had been saving money for the eventuality of buying a property. Between that and a mortgage, they were home. Photo boards show the condition it was in and the work that had to be done.
"We started work in June and by Christmas that year (2002) we had the floor, ceiling and basic framework. By October we held our first open house," said Mack.
He cringed at the thought of opening it for the historical society in the middle of summer because much of the materials such as the skirting were taken off so work on the models can be continued.
In addition to the main floor there are two portable models upstairs which can be taken to train meets and shows.
Certain parts are roughed in and cannot be finished until wiring is completed.
" We're not in a hurry to be done. We are just having fun. When we are finished we'll have to change some things so it is different for the open house," Mack said.
A dozen people show up on average on Thursday work nights, but there are 70 on the mailing list coming from such diverse places as Summit Hill and Weatherly as well as locally.
One man came and offered to do scenery even though he is not especially interested in trains.
The scenery is built from Styrofoam and plaster on screening, though some is wood framed.
Jan Mack said sculpt-a-mold from A.C. Moore works well. Finger indents can be used to make ridges.
Former member Willard Dietz worked on real trains and had stories to tell about working on the railroad. Some places such as Dietzville were named as a memorial to him.
O-gauge trains, about double in size from the HO-gauge used in the model layout, are mainly a collector's item today.
"We go to train meets and the community festival with the portables and specialty cars (that the club builds as fundraisers - a different one each year), and have new and used equipment for sale," Mack said.
One man made most of the stones at home, brought them in and glued them in place as tunnel facings and walls.
Kit bashing makes interesting buildings when pieces of several kits are used to create a single building.
John Poco's special interest is the coal breaker. He is from Summit Hill and enjoys building scenery. John Tanco is the youngest member who specializes in computers and electronics.
Bruce Shafer is vice president of the club.
Jan said there is a replica of the Palmerton station and the coal bowl.
The coal yard is named the WE Hadahava Coal Yard. Pronounce it slowly.
Members were spread around the room willing to answer questions.
N-gauge is half the size of HO, Z-gauge is the next smaller size and an even smaller one could fit the entire downstairs model on a few feet of board.
This year the fall train meet will be held Sunday, Nov. 7, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., in Jim Thorpe Memorial Hall.
The holiday open house at 529 Ore Street, Bowmanstown, will be Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m., Dec. 2, 9, and 16; and Saturdays and Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m., Nov. 27, 28, Dec. 4, 5; Jan 2, 8 and 9 with extended hours on Dec. 26, 1 to 8 p.m.
There is no admission but donations are appreciated. For information call 610-826-6636 or check www.cmrs.info .
Historical society business: Betsy Burnhauser said some of the members of the CMRS belonged to the historical society and Mack still edits the newsletter. She said a painting of a fall scene will be raffled during the community festival and a second one, also by Paula Zelienka, will be available later.