Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association's home tour ready to roll
More than half of the 300 tickets for the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association's fifth model railroad home tour set for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 27 have been sold, according to the event's coordinator Richard Sheats.
Since its inception, the event has been a well-attended fundraiser for the organization.
“There is a lot more interest in model trains that people think,” said Sheats of Ligonier. “People enjoy getting out and driving to each location. It is a way to spend a day with grandkids. And besides, who doesn't enjoy watching a train running around the track?” he said.
Sheats said all of the homes on the tour have something different to share with model train enthusiasts.
“This is the fifth year of our train tour and we have had no repeats,” said Sheats.
This year's schedule features locations covering an area from Greensburg to Saltsburg and Vintondale.
Participants will travel to Vintondale area to view the Lanny Dixson three-rail, O-gauge display, a ride well worth the trip, according to Sheats.
“It is a museum quality display,” he said of the display modeling the downtown area of Johnstown. “It not on the same scale but definitely equal to that of the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.
The display in Saltsburg is a large modern radio-controlled O-gauge train located on the second floor of Ron Fordyce's garage.
“His is a work in progress but you can see his construction methods,” said Sheats. “He even has a working bikini car wash.”
It features a bus station with buses moving in and out and local announcements coming out of the speakers. His display is modeled to represent a steel mill in western Pennsylvania during the '50s.
Closer to home, tour guests will visit the outdoor garden displays of next door neighbors Alice Faye Stewart and John Weimer of Greensburg. Stewart's layout was featured previously in a home garden tour.
“Now it will be on the train tour that just so happens to be in a garden,” said Sheats.
Stewart's display will feature a large G-scale garden layout with a Southwest theme.
Her neighbor will also display a G-scale layout in his yard.
In Latrobe, tour guests will be double-delighted with a guided tour of the Cox family display from twin brothers Matthew and Christopher Cox.
“These boys are the future of the hobby,” said Sheats about the display at the Cox home. “It's a family thing for them. The father is the mechanical engineer and the boys are the construction help.”
While home on spring break last week, Matthew and Christopher Cox, who will celebrate their 11th birthday Thursday, used the time to put the final touches on the two-room train display set up in the basement of their home.
The boys' mother Anita said after the train tour committee visited the family, they were uncertain they would be chosen for this year's tour.
“But they called and said they chose us because of the enthusiasm the boys displayed,” she said.
The boys got their first train, a Pennsylvania Rail Road 0-scale train set, a Christmas gift from their grandfather, John Lopatich, when they were only 2 years old.
Their mother remembers the twins' first train experience.
“When they were 2 years old, they got a Thomas the Train riding toy,” she said. “They always watched Thomas the Tank Engine and we took them to Strasburg to see Thomas tour. After they saw the set up at the Choo Choo Barn in Strasburg, they wanted one.”
By the age of three, they were well on their way to building a train display.
“We got our first train table when we were little, our dad helped us build it,” said Christopher.“Matthew and I had the idea to make a table. We were so small then, we had to use a step to be able to see the table.”
Mark Cox designed the first table and set it up in the family's basement game room.
“We told our dad where to put the tracks and he used the glue gun so we would not get hurt,”
“They tell dad what they want and he creates it, He is the grunt man,” said Anita Cox.
The display includes several area landmark features including an incline.
“The boys like to visit the Pittsburgh and Johnstown incline,” she said. “So they asked for an incline.”
When the first table was filled, the twins asked for a new one.
That was when Mark Cox took down the first display and for a time had it mounted on his office wall.
“We wanted to design our own table,” said Christopher.
“The two of us worked together,” said Matthew.
When the family travels, they always try to find a train show or shop to visit. They attend all of the area train shows.
“One of my favorites is the Ligonier Valley model home tour,” said Matthew.
“We've gone to the Ligonier Valley Rail Road tour for the past three years,” said Anita Cox. “We will miss going this year, because we will be in it.”
Their collection includes HO, N, G, and O scale trains. They are always looking for new features for the displays.
They have a Ligonier Valley Doodle Bug and a Polar Express Train. After riding in an actual coal cart last summer, they decided to create one for the second layout.
They boys say that can not say exactly how many trains they have.
“I can't even tell you, we have so many,” said Christopher.
But mom and dad are quick to say, most have been purchased at used train sales and yard sales.
“They buy used engines and tinker with them and clean them up,” said Anita Cox.
The game room also features a train whistle they bought at the B & O Railroad in Maryland.
Anita Cox said the boys' uncle Joey Lopatich also keeps them is stock and buys them pieces for the displays.
“We bought a lot of used trains. Your money goes a lot further that way,” said Mark Cox.
He said he recently installed a garden G-scale train track around the room's ceiling.
Christopher suggests starting with a train set to see if you like it.
“Then ask your parents to help you make a table,” he said.
Matthew suggests getting a small train set to start you up and putting it around the Christmas tree.
“Then get another one and keep collecting. Then when you have some, make a table for them and then bam,” said Matthew.
About his sons' ongoing enthusiasm about the hobby Mark Cox said,“You don't stiffle their dreams.”
Other stops on the model train home tour
Several displays will also be set up at Huber Hall in Latrobe.
Harry Frye will display a sales table featuring nostalgic photographs. The Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum information table will be set up at the hall to provide additional information about the association's museum in Darlington.
Three area rail road clubs will be set up in the hall.
Esther's Hobby Shop Club will feature a modular N-scale train.
“It was a hit lasts year with everyone, it was so detailed,” said Sheats.
Each member designs a modular section of the layout and they connect it all together for the show.
Three Rivers N-TRAK will also display a N-scale layout. The Pittsburgh Hi-Railers will display a large O-scale traditional Lionel train layout.
“It is so big and always a popular stop on our tour,” said Sheats.
It features the Roswell, New Mexico, UFO crash site and a drive-in movie.
“By adding the displays at Huber Hall it gives people more places to go and a place to stop for some refreshments,” he said.
A local fire company will sell food and drinks in the hall.
Sheats said the group is considering to revisit some of the previous tour homes next year based on feedback from tour participants.
“Some people expressed an interest to see some of the home displays again,” he said.”Because everyone is constantly changing the layouts, we are thinking about inviting some of them back next year.”
Sheats said the group is always looking for new layouts to add to the train tour for the next year. If interested, call the museum at 724-238-7819.
Tickets will be sold until April 20, so that there is time to send out tickets and tour map. Ticket cost is $15 for adults, $5 for children under 16. Proceeds benefit the museum's general fund.
For more information, call 724-238-7819 or go to www.lvrra.org.
Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.