All aboard holiday train show
AUSTINTOWN — The Youngstown Model Railroad Association is nearly 70 years old and has been entertaining families for generations with its annual open houses at its headquarters at the former site of Four Mile Run Christian Church, where it has been since 1977.
The YMRA has been hosting its open houses for the past three weekends at the corner of Raccoon and Four Mile Run roads, and this weekend is the last chance to catch it until next year.
The organization has been around since 1957, but the former church site has been its headquarters since 1977, after the church moved down the street. The empty building had been used for various purposes, including a haunted house.
“We wondered why all the walls were painted black,” joked Bruce Silvernail of Boardman, the YMRA treasurer.
This year, the members erected an addition they use as a meeting room. The basement leaked for years, so they decided the best way to fix it was to build on top of it, giving them the extra space they needed anyway.
YMRA runs extended tracks on two levels of the building, incorporating both O Scale and the more popular HO (Half O) Scale. Its layouts include fictional scenes such as an amusement park with dinosaurs, industrial areas and an exact replica of downtown Youngstown in the 1950s.
The association is one of the few train clubs in the country that has two complete displays. Both extensive layouts feature more than 100 scale miles of track each. The steel mill complex is being completed and the locomotive roundhouse area is being completely redone, along with track work and several upgrades.
Austintown resident Craig Ziobert said he was fascinated with trains at a young age.
“I’ve always had a big interest in railroads. In the winter, I couldn’t watch trains outside so this is where I could come to see them,” he said.
Now, even though he’ll brave subzero temperatures for a railroad, he remains an enthusiastic YMRA member.
Rick Bassett of Niles said he has attended the open house for years.
“I used to bring my kids and now my grandkids. I had trains when I was a kid. This is fantastic,” Bassett said.
Besides the allure of the trains, Lordstown resident Tim Pyles becomes nostalgic observing a scale model of the city.
“We would drive to downtown Youngstown and see the theaters and stores. It’s amazing how they get this stuff in here,” Pyles said.
Cara Rodgers of Austintown lives nearby and said she has been attending the open house for 17 years. She said what is a childhood memory for her she can now experience with her own children.
Silvernail said preparation starts with planning meetings in March and by summer they are working to implement the strategy. He and Ziobert said the approximately 40 members encompass a wide variety of talents, from electrical work and art direction to public relations.
YMRA President Rick Austin of Niles said it’s all worth it “seeing the smiles on kids’ faces” and watching them have an experience they can’t get anywhere else.
Ziobert also enjoys the reactions of adults, especially when they look at the realistic models and point out buildings where they used to work. He likes “getting the historical perspective from someone who walked through it.”
The event will run noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Cost is $5 per person, with children 11 and under admitted free with a paid adult admission.