Chug into Youngstown’s past at extended model rail show
AUSTINTOWN — This holiday season, return in time to 1950s Youngstown, and visit that period’s Christmas tree on the downtown square.
Not too far away, a steel mill will be aglow with two blast furnaces and open hearths.
A drive-in movie screen will be playing Christmas movies — in miniature.
The young at heart, however, will need to bring $5, though kids with them under age 11 can time travel for free.
It’s the Youngstown Model Railroad Association’s annual open house, with dates extended into December to give all Valley residents a chance to enjoy the hard work and craftsmanship — not to mention the history — that has gone into two very large model train layouts.
The club will be open noon to 6 p.m. on Dec. 4, 5, 11 and 12 at 751 N. Four Mile Run Road in Austintown.
YMRA member Gary Durbin said everyone is excited to see the return of the open houses and work continuing on the massive layout.
“Since COVID, we haven’t been here a lot,” Durbin said.
Durbin had worked with a team who laid in an Idora Park-style amusement park on the layout with moving rides and even a roller coaster. He said the roller coaster is a bit of a maintenance problem because a little bit of dust can stall it. To keep it dust free, it is covered when not in use.
The layout also features many other scenes that are modeled after Youngstown’s downtown area, as well as rail yards and the first home of the YMRA.
“Our first home was in the New York Central-Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad station on Himrod Avenue,” said YMRA treasurer Bruce Silvernail. “It has since been torn down but we have an exact replica on the current layout.”
The replica station is well lit and if one looks close, they can see a model railroad on the third floor.
LOOKING FOR A HOME
According to the YMRA’s history, the organization began with an ad in Model Railroad Craftsman magazine asking anyone wanting to form a club to call Robert Folsom of Struthers. On Sunday, April 1, 1957, eight people met at the home of George Sankey of Youngstown and the YMRA was formed.
The first layout was a 5-foot by 10-inch portable one for the Railroad Community Committee of the Mahoning and Shenango Valley. The layout was manned by the organization’s members and was set up at the Canfield Fair and at an industrial show at Idora Park.
In December 1957, the YMRA obtained layout space at the New York Central Station on Wilson Avenue. The layout took some time to get up and running to the point where it was presentable. The association held its first open house Dec. 2 and 3, 1961.
In June 1964, an economic decline saw the association forced to move its layout out of the NYC station. For more than two years the YMRA met in members’ homes, but had no permanent place to make a layout. That all changed in 1967 when the association obtained a fourth floor gym at the Eagles building at the corner of Fifth and Rayen avenues. A large layout was planned and work began, but in August 1977, the YMRA was again looking for a home when the Eagles had to sell the building.
The late Butch Phillips is credited with finding the present location in a structure that was formerly the Four Mile Run Road Christian Church, 751 N. Four Mile Run Road in Austintown. The YMRA moved into the old church in April 1978 and expanded its membership to include the addition of an O scale layout on the upper floor. The HO scale layout was built in the basement and occupies an area 30- by 60- feet.
In 2009, the YMRA completed the process to purchase the building from the Four Mile Run Christian Church, which served as landlord for almost 30 years.
Today the HO layout features scenes from 1950s Youngstown. For the open house, there is even a scale Christmas tree on the square in the downtown area.
“Our steel mill (complex) has two blast furnaces and open hearths along with a coil line,” Silvernail said.
Both the O gauge and the HO layouts feature so many scenes that one could circle again and again and still find something they missed. To make it even more fun for the kids, the organization has a scavenger hunt where kids are given a list of things to find on the layout.
The open house charges a $5 donation per person with children under 11 free with an adult. Proceeds help maintain the layouts and the building.
The open house also provides an opportunity for a potential member to check out the club. Membership is open, and contact information is available on the association’s website at www.ymra.org.