HAZLE TWP. – The Anthracite Model Railroad Club was chugging along Saturday afternoon in the midst of its free open house held from the club's headquarters on North Hanover Court. With an outpouring of local interest, things seem to be right on track as the annual event continues from 1 to 5 p.m. today
In all corners of the room the soft whistling of miniature steam trains could be heard; locomotives rounded the turns on detailed platform displays depicting scenes from communities in and near southern Luzerne County.
One large exhibit replicated the community of Jim Thorpe, boasting a looming mountain overlooking the cozy town – complete with detailed miniatures of shops, store fronts and people. Nestled before the mountain was a sharp likeness of the Asa Packer Mansion – one of the real Jim Thorpe's most historic attractions.
Nearby was a model of the former Packerton Train Yards, which once stood between Jim Thorpe and Lehighton, serving as the hub for coal and freight transport for more than a century as part of the expansive Lehigh Valley Railroad network.
As curious onlookers marveled at the detail of each display, club secretary Joe DeLuca explained that the group buys the handmade track in 3-foot sections.
The entire layout is probably over 1,000 feet, he said. He then pointed to a panel of switches on a sidewall of the exhibit. By manipulating any of these switches we can control any of these areas here, DeLuca added, indicating a section known as the logging area.
He said all the trains used are run by a remote system known as Digital Control Command or DCC. Our members can operate various trains by using these remotes. You can even place three or four trains on the same track, he said.
Given the intricacy of the display, many open house visitors might not have time to appreciate the layout's technical aspects. According to DeLuca, the remotes pick up electrical currents coming from the tracks, though the trains won't move until someone presses a certain model's corresponding number on the dial. A tiny chip inside the train's engine picks up the signal and powers the operation.
The group has about 25 to 30 members; a good thing, as each brings a different area of interest or skill, all of which contributes to the dynamics of the exhibit. Club treasurer John Wiegand is one example. A Weatherly resident, Wiegand explained the level of work he put into a portion he modeled after Wilbur Street in his hometown. He began with an old black-and-white photograph that captured six men standing before the Yuengling Pool Room in 1941. One man had just shot an eight-point buck.
Wiegand spent several weeks re-creating a scaled-down version of that same scene, complete with the buck hanging upside down, just as it is in the picture. Written out in painted print on the side of the building were the words Yuengling Ice Cream. To the right of that model were others done after well-known Weatherly landmarks such as the Weatherly Herald, Allen Candy Co. and the Gilbert House.
The old hardware store took awhile and so did the Herald building, he said. It took awhile because you can't buy anything that looks like the old metal siding it used to have. So I used aluminum foil put on backwards with the dull side out.
Touches like that give each display its own identity. And coming soon, there will be even more to see, as following this weekend's open house, work will begin on a helix intended to connect a lower level of the track to the upper. In order to achieve this, the layout will be brought four or five feet outward and electrical activity exhibit-wide will cease for several months while rewiring and other work is implemented.
DeLuca said the club formed when he was a maintenance man at the former Bishop Hafey School, and a local priest thought a train display would be nice at Christmastime. DeLuca put an ad in the paper looking for members and the group has gone full steam ahead ever since.
The Anthracite Model Railroad Club
When: 1-5 p.m. today
Where: 1057 Hanover Court, Hazle Township
Admission: Free. Donations welcome.
Hudson Model Railroad Club
When: Noon-5 p.m. today
Where: Polish American Building, 97 Martin St., Hudson section of Plains Township