Train enthusiasts welcome at show

2-year-old Owen gets a close look at a scenic model train exhibit at the annual show sponsored by the Ohio Valley Lines club.

By NANCY WHYTE

When traveling along Route 65, one will often encounter a Norfolk Southern train headed to or from Pittsburgh along on the tracks that lie parallel and between the highway and the Ohio River. Most people are intrigued by the trains, whether to count the number of cars, see how many locomotives are doing the pulling, determine what products are coming or going or even being unexpectedly startled by the sharp blast of a train’s warning horn. For those adults and children who want a close-up and safe encounter with trains, they can do so in Ambridge, less than 20 miles north of the City. There, railroad enthusiasts can personally enjoy wonderful model train layouts, complete with passenger and freight trains passing over trestles and tunnels through scenic, panoramic landscapes of business and residential areas and realistic hillsides.

The Ohio Valley Lines model railroad annual display, at 1225 Merchant Street in Ambridge, is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays, now through Jan. 6, 2019, noon-5 p.m. Suggested donations are $6/adults, $2/children ages 3-12, and admission for kids younger than 2 is free.

Visitors will be greeted by Ohio Valley Lines club members who are happy to give information and answer questions about the train layouts and their club, as well as enthusiastically share their passion for model railroads. Numerous moveable step-stools are provided to ensure that even the youngest visitors experience a “bird's eye” view of the layouts. Along the multi-room display, multiple red “push-buttons” allow guests to animate various scenes, such as causing the swing on which a young girl is seated to move back and forth. In one area, viewers can cause night to fall on a portion of Pittsburgh, then hear thunder and see flashes of lightning as a storm passes through.

Guests also may examine the Club's library and museum artifacts.

The Club has two different scale layouts: HO and N. Scale is a model's measurement as a proportion to the original, “real life” rail car. HO is 1:87, meaning 1 inch on an HO rail car represents 87 inches (7.25 feet). N gauge is 1:160, thus 1 inch on an N gauge railcard equals 160 inches (13.3 feet) on its real life counterpart. Gauge means the distance between the two rails on which the train travels. HO gauge is .65 inch; N gauge is .354 inch. Scenery, structures, buildings, and other adornments to the layouts are presents in similar, appropriate scales.

Entering the Merchant Street building, where the Club has been located for 17 years, a visitor first encounters the gigantic HO layout with multiple tracks on which several trains travel through a wide variety of scenes, environments and landscapes over various elevations. Guests are given a list of items, such as a canoe or a dalmatian, with the quest to locate each. It is a challenging proposition, but fun to carefully peruse the all the areas that the trains pass through.

Downstairs is the N scale display featuring scenes with somewhat more modern buildings and industrial areas. There are large, multi-storied buildings and a helicopter with a landing pad. Again, multiple tracks contain various trains.

Both upstairs and downstairs, visitors will be amazed at the realism of the backgrounds and accompanying scenery. The trees and greenery provide natural settings. The hillsides contain rocks, so realistic one would think they'd been pilfered from area hillsides rather than created in-house using foam, plaster, cheesecloth and acrylic paints.

The railroad cars, too, appear to been “borrowed” from area tracks and somehow miniaturized. Box cars of local manufacturers such as Heinz roll along and tankers, too. Other familiar names including Union Pacific or Barnum and Bailey pass by. Adding to the realism, perhaps sadly, graffiti can be seen on many of the railroad cars.

To many visitors, these trains are operated quite differently from the layouts of their childhood days. Visiting the displays, one will see members using hand held and wireless, digital command controls. Rather than having a transformer and relying on voltage and polarity to move a train, instead, for these trains, there is a constant power level on the track. Each locomotive contains a decoder, and each locomotive has a unique “number.” The throttle sends radio signals to the receiver, which interprets them as speed and direction controls. This allows the modeler to have multiple trains running simultaneously on the layout without the need for large banks of switches. The DCCs also allow the engineer to turn on locomotive sounds and headlights as well as to open and close track switches to redirect trains to different tracks.

Never-the-less, the “engineers” keep close watch over the trains to avoid on-the-track calamities; one member was seen scrambling to send the signal to halt his train before it crashed into the back of a stopped portion of another member's train that had become uncoupled from its locomotive.

Ohio Valley Lines welcomes new members. Visitors can ask about membership during their visit, and details can be found, along with a wealth of additional information, at www.OhioValleyLines.org and at www.facebook.com/OhioValleyLines.

The Club currently has about 40 members. Members own their own trains, but the tracks and layouts are shared. Additions of scenery, buildings, people, etc., become the property of the Club.

When asked, members admit their interest in model railroads began in their youth when creating railroad layouts with their families. Most then went through decades away from model trains, only to return to the hobby when time – and sometimes space and resources – permitted the renewal of their passion. To some, club membership is more about the camaraderie with other train enthusiasts. To many, it is a means to pursue hobbies, including creative arts and technology, dabbling in electricity, designing modules (small, mobile portions of layouts, built to be interchangeably connected to other modules), as well as the actual collecting of model trains. But for each, it is certainly a fulfilling and enjoyable experience that is renewed each time a young child's eyes open wide in awe when seeing the trains chugging along the layout's tracks.