Ambridge model rail club set to open for holiday show
Jerry Joseph's big dreams are actually quite small.
“There's something intriguing about anything of our world in miniature — be it miniature airplanes, ships, buildings, cars or trains,” the Sewickley Commons resident says. “With model trains, there's a lot of moving parts to build, paint, modify and create. Just about anything in our world can be realized in miniature and find a place on a model railroad layout.”
Joseph is a member of Ohio Valley Lines, an Ambridge-based model railroad, museum and library.
The Merchant Street club, which formed in 1983, will hold its annual holiday shows on Saturdays and Sundays between Thanksgiving and the first week of January. Guests tower over an idyllic world of cities, farms and steel mills populated by people no taller than Tic Tacs.
The nonprofit club challenges visitors to spot specific scenes — such as a UFO, a couple kissing and a graveyard — as they peruse the display.
Each day at random times throughout the winter show's run, the group will give away three train sets to kids.
The toys also are donated to The Salvation Army, Red Cross, the Moose Club's Heart-to-Heart Club, and the Marines Toys for Tots program. More than 170 train sets have been distributed to local tykes.
For enthusiasts like Joseph, model trains are intrinsically linked with childhood and Christmastime.
Every December, his dad would set up trains around the Christmas tree.
That original 1957 Lionel engine, a Picatinny Arsenal Switcher No. 42, now makes loops around the family's current evergreen.
Like Joseph, fellow member Mike DeSensi's yuletide memories are filled with little locomotives.
A favorite is his dad's American Flyer layout, which featured a tiny gramophone-style record player with a real 3-inch record that played the voice of a conductor making station announcements.
“I hated when we had to take it down after the holiday,” he says of the set.
The group's permanent display — which takes up a good portion of the building's 1,800-square-foot first floor and 800-square-foot basement — gives its 47 members year-round access to the hobby.
Potential members don't need a train of their own, just an interest in the activity — which, as a solo project, can get expensive. There are several memberships available, including a family package.
“I believe the hobby is alive and well,” says Tom James, one of the group's founding fathers who received his first train set in the fourth grade.
“I would not say it is setting records, but it is holding its own. I feel layouts like ours really help generate interest and draws people into the hobby.”
Kristy Locklin is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.