By William K. Alcorn
Charlie Wood was 4 when he got his first Lionel model train set in 1939.
He still has the set, a steam engine “with a whistle,” a tanker, box car and caboose, and he still is playing with model trains.
Wood, of Hartford, is one of a number of Youngstown Model Railroad Association members on hand to talk knowledgeably about model trains and layouts with guests at the organization’s 2012 Model Train annual open house at 751 N. Four Mile Run Road at the corner of Raccoon Road.
That first set cost $9.75 in the catalog, said Wood, who is president of the Great Lakes Division of the Train Collectors Association that runs periodic swap meets.
The Youngstown Model Railroad Association is one of the few clubs that display both O and HO scales of model railroads, said its president, Jim Pope of Berlin Center. Each layout has more than 100 scale miles of track.
The open house is from noon to 6 p.m. today, Saturday and next Sunday and Dec. 1, 2, 8 and 9. A $3 donation per person is requested. Children under 12 are admitted free.
One of the advantages of being in a club is that many model-train hobbyists don’t have the space in their homes to display their layouts as the Youngstown Model Railroad Association facility has. One floor is devoted to O gauge trains and a second floor to HO gauge trains.
Also, there is a cross-section of talent needed to put a layout together. What one doesn’t know, someone else does, Wood said.
For instance, Charles Willett of Boardman, likes doing the scenery — hills and rivers and trees — for the layouts, much as he did for many years building sets at Boardman High School.
Howard “Bud” Brock of Pittsburgh, who got his first Lionel (which he still has) under the Christmas tree at age 2, said he likes the electrical end of things. Sometimes it’s a little tough when you didn’t do the original wiring and have to repair someone else’s work, he said.
As with club member hobbyists, members of the general public attend the open house to bring back memories of when they received their first train, traditionally at Christmas time.
Steve Wright was visiting with his son, Jesse, and his grandchildren, Jacob and Madison, both 5.
Wright, of Salem, said he and his son enjoy going to swap meets and collecting older Lionel pieces. “We brought Jacob and Madison to try to get them interested at a young age to hopefully keep the hobby going.”
“When things are running well, it’s a pleasure,” said David McNeil of Cortland, yardmaster Saturday in the HO display area. “When things get messed up, it’s frustrating,” he said.
“If you get into it, you become somewhat of an electrician, a carpenter, mechanic and tinker to keep everything going,” he added.
Part of the HO display are replicas of the Republic Steel Center Street mill, Youngstown Sheet & Tube and Sharon Steel, handcrafted by Ed Williams of Girard, who worked at Sharon Steel and Youngstown Sheet and Tube, or as he said, “closed them. I’m trying to do a little bit of each mill.”
Williams said there are so many people who worked in the steel mills and know what they looked like who will “call you on it ” if they find a mistake, so he works with photos of the mills and even replicates the cars in the parking lots down to year and model.
“It makes you feel good when people say you did a good job,” he said.
Their mutual interest is model railroading, but what keeps the hobbyists involved is more personal.
“It’s the people you meet ... the friends you make,” said Wood.
“We have a lot of laughs and a lot of fun. It’s the camaraderie,” Willett said.
“I’ve loved trains since I was about 10, and I’ve been in love with them ever since,” Williams said.