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Spotlight: Not your childhood trainset

This isn’t your childhood train set, but it could be a pretty spot-on representation of the town you grew up in.

Carbon Model Railroad Society has been creating and showing incredibly detailed displays since 1985, when a Lehighton shop owner decided to assemble the group of avid hobbyists.

“It’s a gathering of people interested in model railroading. There’s a variety of crafts you can use for railroading,” railroad society President Garry A. Mack said.

Every Thursday night, club members assemble at 529 Ore St. in Bowmanstown to talk shop, plan and add new designs to their platform, which is located on the first floor of the building. The second floor serves as the storage and meeting area, as well as the setting for the a model railroad flea market and the portable operating display.

Your town

And when it comes to these towns, they aren’t just run-of-the-mill generics. As Mack says, members of the group are essentially railroad historians, true railfans who know not only the trains, but the aesthetic feel of the time frame that they are meant to represent.

“We’ll put scenes together with industries and towns that you would see back then, and include details like cars and businesses,” Mack said. “The Lehigh Valley Railroad, Jersey Central Railroad and Lehigh New England Railroad, they’re all gone, fallen flags, but we model them because they’re from our area.”

For example, when it comes to modeling steam engines, the surrounding town is constructed to the standards of the 1960s or earlier, before the phasing out of those particular engines. Cars and businesses in the display will be period-specific as well, in order to maintain the proper look.

Scanning the platform, you’ll be able to spot people taking a break from some work outside Bowman’s, with old hardtop Chevrolets parked in front of the homes. Classic Coca-Cola advertisements cover the billboards, and you can spot the Tastykake truck on a delivery.

Trucks bring out their loads to be dumped in the hopper cars in the yards of the coal-coated factories.

Scale-wise, the railroad society opts for HO scale, where 0.1378 inches represent one real foot. This sort of scale is smaller than what toy train and model railway maker Lionel refers to as “Standard O.”

“The people who do the modeling use HO scale. You can get an awful lot of scenery and traffic in an area using HO scale as opposed to Lionel,” Mack said.

Throughout the year, members of the club will make adjustments to the platform’s display, adding bits and pieces. According to Mack, just about everyone has a little specialty that they contribute to the project.

“There are people who lay track, people who build mountains. Fortunately, we have a nice cross-section, a lot of talent,” he said.

Sheldon Endy, who prefers to construct buildings and scenery, has been part of the group for over nine years. He loves to draw inspiration from his surroundings in order to give his work that special touch of realistic detail.

“I do a lot of general research, looking at buildings as I go around town. I look for things that I like to incorporate in the models, like an ad on the side of a building,” he said.

Endy said that there are plenty of options for construction, ranging from plastic kits to scratch-building, where the artist develops every element on their own. When it comes to a project like that, Endy said he likes to use wood, though plastic pieces are handy for mobile displays in order to avoid potential damage.

Every so often, new elements are cataloged so that interested visitors can keep an eye out for the updates.

Of course, this railroad society isn’t tethered to their home base.

On occasion, they bring the show on the road.

Near the end of March, the society headed over to the Spring Train Meet at the Palmerton Area High School, where their work entertained plenty of visitors.

“We have a display that we take out, a caboose made out of a camper, and we take it to fairs and shows,” Mack said.

“The windows on the front and side open up so we can stage. We run a train in the display, visit with interested persons and talk about the hobby. It’s a great hobby for young and old alike.”

Over the years, the mobile display and the clubhouse have attracted thousands of visitors — modeling aficionados, railfans, and those who just appreciate the craftsmanship and attention to detail. And while the work is plenty of fun, perhaps the biggest draw is friendship and camaraderie.

“I like working with the people, and the association with the people, through the train meets, bringing the display out, talking about the hobby. It’s very seldom that I meet someone who isn’t a joy to work with,” Mack said.

Carbon Model Railroad Society member Larry Engle works on his portable model train display that he takes to functions that the society attends. VICTOR IZZO/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Along with many other structures, this display presented by Carbon Model Railroad Society member Larry Engle included engine houses and a turntable.
Among the hundreds of visitors checking out the railroad memorabilia from more than 100 tables set up in the Palmerton High School gym were 7-year-old Connor Montgomery from Lansford and his father, Jeffrey.