Fifth-grade model train enthusiasts to play hosts on home tour
Train tracks, horn blasts and flashing lights signal the hobby that absorbs Mark Cox and twin sons, Christopher and Matthew.
The brothers, who turned 11 on April 5, were given a train set for Christmas at age 3 from their maternal grandfather, the late John Lopatich.
Fifth-grade students at Latrobe Elementary School, the boys build trains from Lego sets and proudly point out their own work on the layouts they design with their father.
“They were so little, they would stand on stools when they started,” Mark Cox said.
Each boy will play host for one of the Unity family's two train layouts during the fifth annual Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association Model Railroad Home Tour.
Stops include five private homes in Vintondale, Latrobe, Saltsburg and Greensburg along with three portable layouts at Latrobe's Huber Hall.
The association, whose goal is to preserve the history of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road, began the tour as a fundraiser to help support its museum in Ligonier.
The boys have visited numerous train and trolley exhibits and have a wish list of train rides.
“The Horseshoe Curve (National Historic Landmark in Altoona) — I've always wanted to ride that one,” Matthew said.
One display includes a school, church, café, bank, motel and swimming pool, coal mines, mountains and a working magnetic crane.
One building reads “Anita's Restaurant & Eatery,” a tribute to their mother, Anita.
“Most of the buildings, we will put lights in if they are not in already, to light it up and make it look pretty,” Christopher said.
The hobby is not inexpensive, Mark Cox said, but trains can be purchased used or through trades.
“You can start out with small trains and have a nice little display,” he said.
Their second layout includes a Coors Light train, which can emit “fog” to depict refrigeration.
It has a Steelers trolley, a Polar Express train and a copy of a No. 1152 Doodlebug, a Ligonier Valley streetcar.
The family sometimes visits train displays while on vacation, Anita Cox said.
“Anywhere we are, we brake for trains,” she said.
Lanny Dixon of Vintondale spent 20 years building his basement train display, which he describes as a throwback to “a happier time.”
The three-rail O-gauge layout is “99 percent done,” said Dixon, 71. “But I plan to expand. I may start all over again.”
A member of the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum, Dixon said his love of trains was sparked with a Christmas gift from his parents when he was 4.
“It was right after World War II. I added on what they gave me each year for Christmas. Trains used to be toys. Now they are scale models of real trains,” he said.
The art of his layouts imitates life.
“It's modeled on something you would see on the street back in 1946, for example,” Dixon said. “It pretty much models Western Pennsylvania at that time — industrial cities, mountains and cliffs.”
There are freight trains and passenger trains, steel mills, and specific touches from any mid-1900s Main Street — signs reading “Uncle Sam Wants You,” an ice cream truck, a street car, a bank, a hobo camp, a movie theater with lights racing around the marquee.
The layout mimics the look of cities such as Johnstown, Greensburg or Pittsburgh in the 1940s or 1950s, he said.
“It is what you might see on city streets downtown during the ‘pre-mall' era,” Dixon said.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Zimbabwe alleges Murrysville doctor illegally killed lion
- Tax fight brews among Southwest Greensburg business owners, landlords
- Greensburg native runs unique catering service in California
- Work planned for Route 711 in Ligonier
- Motorcyclist injured in Sewickley Township
- Kecksburg celebrates its UFO history with annual festival
- Monessen home invasion ‘ringleader’ denied leniency
- Youngwood playground found to be in violation of disability act again
- Derry man gets 19-year prison sentence for recording sex assaults of girl
- Girl, 10, forced to strip in Sewickley Township home invasion
- Contract talks progress in Derry