Ligonier Valley model train home tour on track for May 3
The clacking sounds of a toy train chugging along the tracks, the magic smell of the past pouring the scent of “the good ‘ole days” from the engine's smoke stack and the raspy groan of the train whistle as it passes by, are just a few of the memories that draw so many people back year after year to the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association's model train home tours.
This year's home tour, to be conducted 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 3, will mark the fifth tour sponsored by the association.
“Everybody likes toy trains because they bring back childhood memories and it is a fun an creative hobby and can be something that the kids can be part of,” said Richard Sheats chairman of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association's annual fundraiser. “There are many railroad enthusiasts in the area (both model and real trains) so we have a large base to draw from and the tour has been growing each year. We have had visitors from Ohio and West Virginia and as far away as North Carolina.”
There have been 25 different home train layouts in the past. This year's tour will welcome back three home layouts plus Chuck Kapalka and his outdoor live steam trains.
“This year we have the first repeat home layouts. We have had requests to see some of the layouts that were under construction in the first two years,” said Sheats. “People are curious to see the progress that has been made.”
Ticket holders will begin the self-guided auto tour at one of the five homes on the tour in the Latrobe, Armbrust, Greensburg area.
Monongahela River layout replicates realistic scenery
Rob Enrico, 60, of Hempfield Township will display a large two-rail O-scale layout.
“I got started as a young child. My father had a Lionel for Christmas around the tree,” said Enrico. “It was a baby boomer thing. Just about every family had one after the war.”
Over the years Enrico said he has had many layouts. In 1992, he said he decided to tear down his Lionel layout and put up the two-rail O-scale layout.
“The track has two rails not three like Lionel. It is a 22 feet by 23 feet layout modeling the Monongahela division of The Penn Central Rail Road as it appeared in the summer of 1970.
Enrico's display depicts a route along the Monongahela River from Shire Oaks to West Brownsville.
“It follows the river and the layout is 99 percent complete,” he said.
Enrico said he participates in at least four tours a year. He participated in the Ligonier Valley Rail Road's first home tour and was more than happy to participate again this year.
“It is the most organized tour I've had through the last 20 years of participating in tours,” said Enrico. “Those guys are great. We had 200 people came through that first year.”
Enrico's tour will also feature a Lionel layout.
“I have a second back-to-the-future Lionel layout featuring a 1946 - 1957 time period collection of super O track. It came out in 1957,” said Enrico. “It is from my collection, and my dad's collection. It was packed away for 22 years.”
He said he recently decided to go back to Lionel again. “Lionel always wins out,” he said “It was my first.”
Enrico, who is a member of the National Model Railroad Association, said he enjoys opening his home for local conventions and tours.
“You build it and you always want people to see it,” Enrico said. “It is good to let other people enjoy it also. I did it for myself but it feels good when people come in and see it.”
Enrico said he also enjoys taking photographs of the scenes he replicates with precise detail and develops his own black and white images.
“The layout is so to scale that these black and white photos look like the real scene,” said Enrico.
He said the photography provides the perspective that a real rail fan could appreciate.
Enrico's tour will include a display of photographs.
Multi-layer layout rises from floor to ceiling
Bret Pohland's large state-of-the-art O-scale layout occupies a room above his garage.
Pohland, 46, of Latrobe and his late father Paul “Pudge” Pohland began constructing the multi-level Lionel layout 10 years ago.
“I did not know it, but my father had been collecting trains. Then when my daughter, Chloe, was born he decided she needed a train layout,” said Pohland. “He bought a girls' train set for her.”
That first layout grew into a state-of-the-art floor to ceiling 28 feet by 42 feet display at his home.
“We spent a lot of time together. We'd tried to spend one day a week working on the layout,” said Pohland about working with his father to build the layout.
Although Pohland took a year off after his father passed away, he said he is back to working on the layout one day a week with his father's older brother, Herk Pohland.
“I feel like I need to complete what we started. If he were here, he'd be very pleased with where the layout is at,” said Pohland. “ But, I don't plan to ever be done, I guess. It's a monumental task.”
Pohland's layout can run 10-11 trains at the same time on an O-scale double track. The ankle to ceiling level display features replicas of some of the larger locomotives, including Union Pacific, Southern Pacific and Chesapeake and Ohio that are scaled models of real engines.
Pohland said it makes him feel special and honored to be asked to participate in the home show for a second time.
“Train people are obsessed about what they do,” said Pohland.
Digital control system featured at Flock layout
Dick Flock will provide a walk-through HO-scale display that he operates like a real railroad at the basement of his Greensburg home.
Flock, 78, presented an “L-shaped” layout during the first tour. Since that time he has added several new features including a main yard.
The layout depicts a Johnstown to Erie rail line staring with a main yard that travels through a coal area and several towns before ending in Erie.
Flock said it can take 8-15 people to operate the digital control system he has in place for his layout.
“The dispatcher communicates the orders providing instructions to the other trains and tells them where they are to go,” said Flock. “With the digital control, the number of trains is not limited.”
Flock said he received his first Lionel train at age 3, a gift from his father. But switched to HO trains for most of his life.
“I went HO in 1957 and have been HO ever since,” said Flock.
His collection is comprised of too many cars to count. He estimates he has 250 hopper cars, 200 miscellaneous box cars and more than 40 engines.
“Model railroading is the second largest hobby in the world, second to needlework,” said Flock.
Armbrust collector displays lifelong hobby
Henry Sobota, 64, of Armbrust will display an 8 by 16 foot modern O-gauge layout featuring Mikes Train House Lionel trains.
Saboda said he started collecting Lionel trains before he was born.
“It all started in the womb about four months before I was born, when my mother bought me a train,” said Sabota. “We were railroaders. Both of my great-grandfathers worked on the railroad. Their photos and certificates are hanging in my train room.”
Sabota is modeling the former Pennsylvania Railroad from the late 1960s'. It includes a town and a service facility with a six-track yard.
“I can run two trains at same time and work four trains at a time in the yard,” said Sabota, a retired Hempfield fourth-grade school teacher.
His collection includes 30 engines to make up sets with six passenger car sets.
The display represents the Fayette Central Railroad in Uniontown that made weekend runs to Dunbar and Fairchance until 2012.
“I named a town called Peptown after my grandfather, Preston E. Prinkey, and called my engine facility Louis Shops after my grandfather, Louis Sobota who worked at the Youngwood round house. I worked on the Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad as a conductor so I named my yards after my boss, Larson.”
Sabota takes pride that his personalized layout is authentic. He said his son will be helping with the home tour.
“We are a railroad family,” said Sabota, who's great-grandfather was a freight conductor at the Youngwood yard. ‘When I worked for the railroad, I wore the watch he wore when he was a conductor.”
Kapalka layout features ride-on track
Chuck Kapalka's interest in model trains led him to install a 7.5-gauge track system around the outside of his Greensburg home for his scaled-down model of a Shay live steam engine. His layout was featured on the tour two years ago.
Kapalka said he bought the 35-ton, two-truck engine on eBay. He traveled to Indianapolis to retrieve the pickup truckload of miscellaneous parts.
“Chuck's was one of the most popular railroads we have had because it is a model that can be ridden on and we have had many requests to bring him back,” said Sheats.
This year he said he plans to expand the track.
“Right now we are working on the new track that will loop into the woods. It will be double the size of the original loop around the house,” said Kapalka, 70, of Greensburg.
The 7.5 scale train set up will feature three different engines to pull riders around the track.
Kapalka will be conducting the 6-foot Shay engine. Other engines also running on the track that day include a 10-foot Pennsylvania G5 and a Reading Railroad steam engine.
“Each will be pulling cars for people to sit in,” said Kalapka. “My engine will be pulling a flat car and a gondola car. Others will have some passenger cars.”
Kapalka started building the engine five years ago after he retired from TSI in Latrobe.
“I knew right away I wanted to build a railroad in my yard, too. I did not want to haul it somewhere every time I wanted to ride it.”
Kapalka is happy to invite train enthusiasts to his home again.
“The last time, 372 people came here on the tour,” Kapalka said.
Kapalka praised the work the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association is doing to promote the history of the railroad in Pennsylvania.
“The LVRR perpetuates the trains with the new museum. I like to help out anyway I can,” said Kalapka. “If my railroad helps sell tickets for them, my wife, Kathy and I are happy to do it.”
Additional activities at Huber Hall
This year along with the O scale and N scale model train layouts, the tour will have something new in the Pittsburgh Lego Users Group operating Lego train display at Huber Hall in Latrobe.
“Any parent that has ever stepped barefoot on a Lego block in the middle of the night will like this,” said Sheats.
Local photographer Harry Frye, will display local railroad, sports and historical photos. The LVRR table will have information about the museum and railroad related items for sale.
Several clubs will set up layouts at the hall, including a large O-gauge layout by The Pittsburgh Independent Hi-Railers; an N-scale layouts by N-Trakers and Esther's Hobby Shop.
“Huber Hall is a nice pit stop. There are restrooms, a large parking lot and the firemen will be selling food and soft drinks,” said Sheats.
Tour cost is $15 for adults and $5 for children under 16. Only 300 tickets will be sold. Tickets must be ordered before April 20.
“The tour has gotten so popular that we have to restrict ticket sales to 300 so we don't overwhelm the home owners,” said Sheats.
Mail checks to LVRRA P.O. Box 21, Ligonier, PA 15658. Go to www.lvrra.org for an order coupon. Please include email address with payment. For more details, call 724-238-7819.
Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or email@example.com.