Workin' on the railroad

Life along the rails is a model-building work in progress

Special to The Sun City PacketSeptember 3, 2013 

There are skinny dippers in the river. Police have stopped the occupants of a psychedelic VW bus. Heavily muscled steelworkers are turning molten metal into steel beams in the Hades Steel Works.

And the railroad runs past all of them.

There are dozens of similar scenes displayed in the layout designed and built by the Sun City Model Railroaders. Some are quirky, such as the tiny occupied outhouse, and some are common events, such as a dead deer surrounded by emergency vehicles.

You have to look closely because these wee vignettes hide in plain sight in the nooks and crannies of this model railroad work-in-progress. If you pay attention, you'll spot the guy with the binoculars spying on the skinny dippers, the chain gang working on the roads, the drunken bear making off with the sleeping moonshiner's white lightnin', the old woody station wagon, the neon lights over the plumbing fixtures store and the corn ready to harvest.

Jay Hubelbank said the display is the combination of skills among the members.

"People like to build things, work on trains and talk when they come here," he said. "Some things are built from kits, like most of these buildings."

Others are scratch-built, like the wooden trestle that crosses the river below the waterfall. Hubelbank said one member built that entirely from sticks and his own drawing.

This is the second incarnation of the train display. Members dismantled the original exhibit, which filled nearly two-thirds of the club's space in the Woodworkers Guild workshop, more than two years ago in preparation for a design that was more visitor- and railroader- friendly.

When the club reopened its doors for the holidays in 2011, the scenery was rough but the trains were running, much to the delight of visiting youngsters of all ages.

The tracks are HO Scale â€"meaning it is 1/87th of real life. Every foot of HO track is 87 feet in real life. Model railroaders talk in scale. HO is half of O, the more familiar Lionel toy train scale.

The setting of the current layout is the 1950s in the West Virginia-North Carolina area, when steam was beginning to take over from coal trains. There still are a few coal cars and engines in the marshalling yard and around the track, but newer trains, like the Santa Fe passenger train, speed past the older models.

The trains operate by digital computer control. An engineer can run up to 64 trains with the equipment, although Hubelbank said there generally are only about three running at any time.

Both Hubelbank and fellow railroader Ron Garner enjoy running the trains but admit they'd rather construct the buildings.

"Some would rather do the scenery," Garner said. "That's where the multiple talents come in."

There's a lot of framework supporting the layout, with wiring carefully placed to control not only the trains, but neon signs and building lights.

The large farm in the corner boasts a variety of livestock and several crops, while landscaping around the tracks and streets ranges from gardens to rocky outcrops. The three walls that serve as backdrops take the scenery into painted distant mountains and skyscrapers.

It's not the cheapest hobby, with some engines going for as much as $300, but it's also something the club members love to share with visitors.

Space is at a premium, even with the more accessible design, and Hubelbank said the club is hoping for more expansion with the enlargement of the workshop or perhaps a move to a new building in the future.

"We'd like to add O Scale and N scale, which is tiny, but until we have more space, we run HO and welcome those who are interested in joining us," he said.

About the club The club will take its traveling display to the Oct. 12 club fair at Pinckney Hall and holds open houses during the holidays. For more information, contact president Nick Del Pozzo at 843-705-3088 or attend one of the meetings at 1:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday in the guild workshop.

The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service