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Longtime Armbrust enthusiast has part in annual Model Railroad Home Tour

Mary Pickels
| Sunday, April 27, 2014, 11:24 p.m.
Henry Sobota of Armbrust does a few test runs on his display to make sure everything is running smoothly as he prepares for the upcoming Model Railroad Home Tour.
Rebecca Emanuele | for the Tribune Review
Henry Sobota of Armbrust does a few test runs on his display to make sure everything is running smoothly as he prepares for the upcoming Model Railroad Home Tour.

Henry Sobota spent his professional career teaching elementary school, but when he enters his Armbrust basement, he takes on the role of a railroader.

Railroaders are represented on both sides of his family tree, and Sobota's mother purchased his first train before he was born.

On May 3, Sobota's home will be one of five stops on the sixth annual Model Railroad Home Tour, a self-guided driving tour sponsored by the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association.

“Everybody likes toy trains because they bring back childhood memories, and it is a fun and creative hobby and can be something that the kids can be part of,” said Richard Sheats, the association's fundraiser chairman.

“My layout is basically the middle- and late-1960s (era) of the Pennsylvania Railroad,” said Sobota, 64.

He named his town Peptown, after his grandfather — Preston “Pep” Prinkey, a Pennsylvania Railroad conductor in Youngwood.

Sobota still has Pep's pocket watch, which Sobota carried as a volunteer conductor with the former Fayette Central Railroad. Photos show him in that role and as a volunteer brakeman with the former Westmoreland Scenic Railroad, both popular tourist trains.

His grandfather, Louis Sobota, was a boilermaker at the Youngwood roundhouse, a large, circular building used to service locomotives moved by turntables.

Peptown's engine repair site is called “Louis Shops.”

Sobota's great-grandfather, Jacob Murray Prinkey, was a freight conductor in the Youngwood yard.

The village includes the PRR Metropolitan passenger steam train and coal hoppers surrounding a village of shops, restaurants and a Greyhound bus depot.

Authentic Pennsylvania Railroad lanterns hang on the walls. Memorabilia includes family train yard photos, certificates and a collection of Member of Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen pins.

Tim Sobota and Maryann Sobota grew up enjoying their father's hobby, and Tim Sobota will assist with the tour.

During a recent demonstration, Sobota's remote activated the layout's controls, and an eight-car Metropolitan, whose route would have been New York to Pittsburgh, chugged by.

In addition to three home layouts, this year's tour includes Chuck Kapalka's outdoor live steam trains.

Kapalka, 70, and his wife, Kathy, hosted 273 guests on the 2012 tour, despite poor weather. Only 300 tickets are sold for the event.

Kapalka's interest in model trains led him to install a 7.5-gauge track system around the outside of his Hempfield home for his scaled-down model of a Shay live steam engine.

“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,” Sheats said.

“As a kid, I liked model trains. Since retiring, I had to have something to do. I started building an engine. I decided if I didn't have a place to run it, it wouldn't be much fun,” said Kapalka, a former machinist.

“A friend of mine had one outside. It kind of gave me a kick,” he said.

Kapalka said he enjoys participating in the tour.

“It keeps alive the history of trains. A lot of people never smelled coal smoke coming out of an engine stack,” he said.

Along with O-scale and N-scale model train layouts, the tour will include the Pittsburgh Lego Users Group's operating train display at Huber Hall in Latrobe.

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

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