Not just for Christmas...

Emsworth resident Rich Kohler’s garage features a year-round train display, complete with scenes of life in a small town. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

From his home in the hills above the train tracks running parallel to the Ohio River, Rich Kohler hears every whistle of the engines rolling by, every clickety-click of the cars on the tracks.

"That's what I love about Emsworth. You can't go anywhere without hearing the trains," Rich said, looking over his personal world of trains, towns, and scenes of everyday life. It's not the typical Christmas season train set-up, tracks circling the tree. Rather, it's a year-round hobby that is in a constant state of change, with the tweaking and expanding providing the enjoyment of his hobby.

Rich's grandfather, Richard Waldren, served as his inspiration. "He got me into this when I was just a little kid."

He started working on the project in 1998, at age 10. It quickly became a major interest in his life, with perfection a never-ending quest, but something that he doubts he will ever achieve.

"I'm never fully satisfied with it. Every so often, I take it apart, repaint it, and redesign it. The current display is two years old."

The platform measures approximately 25 by 20 feet, with multiple levels built up to create hills above a sprawling village of over 2,000 houses, buses, trolleys, figures, animals, police and fire stations and schools, all surrounded by two active train lines running in opposite directions. Over 100 locomotives -- two of them nearly 60 years old -- represent every major rail line: New York Central, Pennsylvania, B & O, Norfolk Southern, Burlington, Amtrak and others.

Rich said that he attends model train expos in Monroeville, where he picks up things that he thinks make his layout "look cool."

The layout, along with shelves of coal cars, passenger cars and cabooses -- 16 of them built by Rich from model kits -- has permanently displaced cars from the garage. "My dad helped me to build the platform, but the layout and the painting were done by me."

The work has been a continuous learning experience. He uses plaster, among other materials, to build the hills, and he's discovered "…lots of new ways to do this." Rich admits to having failures along the way, but seeing his work turn out well makes it all worth it. He turns on the power and watches his Reading steam locomotive pass by the passenger train as they purr along the tracks. "When I see the trains running smoothly -- no jumps, no skips -- I'm overjoyed. Two trains running the layout without any issues is awesome!"

The dedication to his hobby carries over to his community service which began at about the same time that he started working with trains, first helping with fundraisers for the Emsworth Volunteer Fire Department and now serving as a firefighter for the past three years.

And, in a way, his platform displays the life that surrounds him, with one village scene depicting a domestic dispute, with tiny policemen and cruisers approaching a home, while another shows a car wreck not far from a fire that has been brought under control by fire fighter figures who have arrived in a firetruck with "Emsworth" painted on the side.

Despite the attention to details, the authenticity of the models and the unique layout scenes, the display remains, for the most part, a personal project, shared with "The Citizen," but not yet ready for the public.

"A few friends know about it, but I haven't invited people in to see it," Rich said. "It's just not where I want it to be yet."

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