By Brian M. Howle
One of those incalculable figures – that can never truly be assessed – is the number of little boys and girls who made out their Christmas lists, and who put a toy train at the top. For post-WWII boomers, the hallowed names of Lionel, American Flyer, Atlas and Bachmann bring back memories of those simpler days and times. And if you’ve missed the hobby, and wished you could relive that glorious feeling, your chance to do so has finally arrived!
The Grand Strand Model Railroad Club will bring the tradition-steeped hobby to the public, as they have announced their 1st Annual Model Railroad Show and Sale. The event will be held on October 16 and 17 (Saturday and Sunday) at the Lakewood Conference Center, 5873 S. Kings Highway (on the frontage road) beside Lakewood Campground, Myrtle Beach, SC.
The club was formed over 25 years ago in Myrtle Beach by Nick Nicholas, who moved to Florida (and sadly, has since passed away). Ed Sharrett was stationed at the M.B. Air Force Base when he joined the group 24 years ago, and the love he developed for model railroading – as for so many of all generations – had its roots in the glorious heyday of Christmas mornings that featured the coveted Lionel train set underneath the Christmas tree.
Their headquarters are located at 702 Main Street; the entrance is beside Ed’s Hobby Shop – and the club’s permanent layout resides upstairs above Ed’s. They currently have 36 avid members, ranging from 16 to 90 years of age. All types of people from all backgrounds belong, and among these is a retired electrical engineer, who helped build the dual control panels on either side of the layout, with switches and indicator lights to show which track the train is running, train speed, and track switching.
One member of the club, former airplane builder Ron Peterson, built a live steam engine, the cars and caboose in his garage at his home in Deerfield. Peterson is currently working on a “Shay,” which features a side-piston engine.
The club features HO and N Scale layouts at their home layout, and they meet Saturdays 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., and Mondays from 4 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Their N-Scale 14 linear ft. modular layouts meet National Standard specifications, which means they can be attached to other layouts with the same specs. In 2008, the club attended a show in Louisville, Kentucky where they connected their layouts with hundreds of others from the U.S., Japan, Australia, Germany, England, and Canada.
Inside a 50,000 sq. ft. building, the finished layout contained over 118 scale miles of track, and it took over 4 hours for one train to make one circuit around the entire layout!
According to Sharrett, the train sets and layouts of today have advanced by leaps and bounds from those earlier forerunners. The world of model railroading use to be overwhelmingly Lionel, with one train and one track. Placing a 2nd train would reduce voltage and slow the performance of both trains.
Electronics now allow layouts to utilize computer chip technology that gives today’s enthusiasts far more control with a fraction of the time to build. Old layouts required huge amounts of wiring for each and every function of trains, tracks and accessories.
But today, the sets are controlled by Digital Command Control (DCC), which allows you to run 99 trains on one track at the same time, traversing in different directions and at different speeds.
DCC units now have sound systems in DCC, that reproduce those snorting gases, air pumps, pistons and steam hissing – along with that amazing sensory delight, the billowing smoke from the old steam engines – that make the illusion ever stronger.
The engines have small electronic chips that receive the signals from the DCC controller, similar to your TV’s remote control. These are dedicated signals for all of the different commands you might wish to program into your layout.
Prices of trains sets vary, from $100 on up, depending on your tastes in scale, budget and is only limited by your imagination when it comes to building layouts.
Model railroaders have several scale sizes to consider when building a train layout:
Z Gauge – 220:1 Scale – Smaller than a penny, about the height of the top of Lincoln’s head. (Requires almost sterile operating environment, though; a speck of dust can bring your railway to a screeching halt!).
N Gauge – 1:160 Scale – This scale has exploded in popularity, due to the fact that you can build a HUGE scenario on a simple 4’ x 8’ layout, and buildings, scenery and accessories are plentiful.
HO Gauge – 1:87 Scale – The most popular scale, not as big as “O” Gauge, but big enough to provide great layouts and detail work. Again, huge variety of accessories.
S Gauge – 1:64 Scale – Most likely your Grandfather’s train set!
Standard “O” Gauge – 1:48: Scale – The one that went BOOM after WWII and graced millions of Christmas morning floors. Consistly mostly of Lionel and American Flyer sets; layout complementing Corgi die-cast vehicles are also scaled this size. Accessories are varied and sometimes harder to find (where you live), but worth every penny.
G Gauge – 1:29 Scale – A much larger scale, this scale is used in outdoor layouts that have become the darling of retirees across the country. Combines track planning and outdoor landscaping, which begs for a scale trestle over water somewhere!
On Site At The Show
The club will feature these layouts at the Lakewood Conference Center show:
N Scale – 6 ft. x 20 ft. layout – 8 Trains, 4 Tracks.
HO Scale – 10 ft. x 18 ft. layout.
2 Small Lionel O Scale layouts – 5 ft. x 6 ft. – Kids will love to operate these, which feature the some of Lionel’s legendary accessories, including the operating Log Loader, and an Electro-Magnetic Crane that pick up washers and puts in a gondola car.
The club has constructed some interesting ways to show off model railroading to the kids (and not-so-little kids!).
A small TV camera will be mounted on a flatcar of a train and will be used on the kids display, and kids will be able to sit inside a mockup of an engine’s cab, with a TV screen in front so it will seem that they will actually be riding on the layout.
The club uses a trailer to take the N-Gauge layouts to train shows, and the trailer has been painted to look like a real train caboose, complete with ladders, the smokestack from the old wood stove, and the iconic cupola on top!
HO is currently the most popular in today’s model railroading world, because of its size and relatively lower costs. The larger Lionel scale is still popular, but requires a lot of space (and money) to build a working layout.
Scenery has taken off as the newest must-have for the model railroader.
A representative from Tom’s Trains will be on hand, from Raleigh, North Carolina, giving seminars and lectures on how to make mountains and trees, including tree roots! Woodland scenery – pre-made miniature grasses, rocks, shrubs and trees are available from manufacturers, but more and more modelers are going the extra step of creating their own flora and fauna. Believe it or not, some indigenous plants can be used to make HO and N scale trees and tree roots.
And there is a virtually unlimited variety of buildings, scale vehicles and every imaginable accessory available on the market to help one create the ultimate model train layout.
So gather up your little engineers (and perhaps a few not so little) and your camera, and head out to this great show and sale. There will be over 70 tables and 18 vendors selling all types of trains and train memorabilia, “Thomas the Train” items, pictures, and more.
Modular layouts will include Lionel, HO Scale and N-Scale sizes. There will also be Free Modeling Clinics conducted throughout the day, so you can learn now to make mountains, trees, rivers, rocks, and more.
All proceeds from the sale go to the club building fund, so that the permanent home layout facility will remain open for all model railroading enthusiasts to enjoy for many more generations to come.
For further information, please contact Edward Sharrett at 293-4386; Joe Corsetti at 297-7162; or Bill Smith at 602-2420.
This article also appears as the Cover Story in Alternatives NewsMagazine, Oct. 7-21, 2010.