All aboard the HObo club railroad

Mary Pickels
| Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, 12:42 a.m.

The chug of locomotive wheels and the sound of a whistle blast signify Christmas for many people.

Holiday traditions might include assembling their own layout under the tree, taking their children for a train ride at the mall or watching “The Polar Express.”

A favorite local tradition is attending the annual HObo Model Railroad Club's open house, scheduled at the Greater Connellsville Community Center Dec. 2 and 9, from noon to 5 p.m.

“We get a lot of repeaters. Last year, they started coming before noon and kept coming until 5 p.m. It was a steady flow,” club President Bill Beatty said.

There is no charge to view the club's display, although donations are accepted, Beatty added.

The club formed in 1953, and currently has 15 members who meet each Friday from 7 to 10 p.m. at the community center.

“We are always looking for more,” Beatty said.

The HObo Model Railroad Club originally met in a member's home and continued to meet there until the 1970s. The club moved to the community center in 1977 and is one of its original tenants.

An advisory board recently was formed by Connellsville City Council to try to better market the former school building on Fairview Avenue and bring in new tenants.

This year will be the last in the display's current room, Beatty said. After the second open house, and as soon as the community center can get another room prepared, the club will relocate on the first floor.

“It's a little more space, and hopefully a better setup for the trains,” Beatty said. “We will be building a new railroad. We can't pick this up and move downstairs. We will salvage what we can, along with the wooden table work.”

He added that club members can dream up ideas and draw up plans. “The geographical area will stay the same — southwestern Pennsylvania and into West Virginia. It will be fictionalized. It's too hard to do it true to scale. You would have to condense too much.”

Most pieces have been purchased at hobby shops, Beatty continued. “No one scratch builds anymore. It's too hard to get the materials.”

Many of the members have their own train displays, too.

“My dad worked on the railroad. I had trains when I was young,” Beatty said. “I got away from it while I was working. Looking toward retirement, I wanted to find something to get into. It's a hobby. It's something you can be real creative with.”

The open house, which Beatty said has been held “forever,” is an event people begin anticipating months in advance.

“When I'm walking down the street in September, people will say, ‘Are you still involved with the Railroad Club? When are you going to open up?'” Beatty said.

Club members will attend the open house events to answer questions and explain the trains to visitors.

The community center display can be viewed at

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or

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