Local Train Clubs Offer Ticket to Escape the Digital

An unprecedented event unfolded earlier this month in the buildings of Camp Jefferson. A holiday model train show, hosted by the local BD&W Club, included layouts by three regional clubs. The other two were High Point “N” Track Club and Pocono Mountain Garden Railway Society. Perhaps the largest free model train show in the tristate area, a display of such scale required organizing and delivering by a dedicated team.

An inflatable train with Santa waiving “hello” at Camp Jefferson during the holiday train show. (Photo courtesy of Grace Rhinesmith)

The various members and visitors at the show shared two traits: they were all open and enthusiastic. Otherwise, there was no obvious link among the men, women, and children present. Some members of Jefferson’s BD&W Club introduced themselves to The Jefferson Chronicle in the days leading up to the show. They are mostly men over 50 with backgrounds in the types of technical, mechanical, and design fields one might expect in a model train enthusiast. But at the show, as more and more fans shared their stories, the picture became more complex. They had backgrounds in theatrical makeup, in the fine arts, and in fields entirely unrelated to tiny trains or the tiny landscapes they traverse.

Jim DeYoung, head of the Berkshire, Dover and West Milford Railroad Club, based out of Jefferson Township. (Photo courtesy of Grace Rhinesmith)

Oh, the landscapes! Model trains are metal and wires and switches and currents, but their scale-size tracks lead them through spectacular vistas and bustling towns that entrance their audiences. Hobbyists let loose the imagination in these sets (called “layouts”) of miniature trees, buildings, cars, and people. From a flat board, they create intricate scapes that usually entail clever miniature embellishments, lighting, sound effects, and moving parts. Accessory pieces can be purchased at scale, but are often repurposed doll pieces or toys. Many of the buildings and more interesting pieces are built by hand, which takes a keen eye to spot due to the careful craftwork. Time and again, guests revisited this or that building, gazing into a bit of landscape or waiting for the train to round the bend once more and blow its whistle as it sped through the mountain tunnel or crawled across the handcrafted trestle bridge.

The holiday model train show took place at Camp Jefferson in Jefferson Township. (Photo: James Ihde-Dougherty)
The holiday model train show took place at Camp Jefferson in Jefferson Township. (Photo: James Ihde-Dougherty)

Throughout the show, representatives of the three train clubs expressed a desire for more members and proffered an open invitation to the public. This invitation prompts questions: What type of person pays a visit to a model train club? What do train people have in common?

Through the Decades and Across Generations

The event hosted families, couples, individuals of all ages, and people of seemingly all degrees of train knowledge (both model and full scale). Some bantered with the club members, talking train-talk. Others seemed to have no previous knowledge of trains of any size. While the source of enjoyment varied with the person, smiles were guaranteed at times such as the first notice of the waterway created by a pioneering technique constructed nearly 50 years ago.

The holiday model train show took place at Camp Jefferson in Jefferson Township. (Photo: James Ihde-Dougherty)

All of the model train clubs present at the show have a web presence. Most of the planning, arguing, sharing, and making-stuff-up happens on the internet and over the phone. However, trains and layouts are tangible things. The only way to experience them is to be there in person. All are invited: Scout groups, youth groups, elder groups, anyone. Enjoy the mechanics, electronics, art, modeling, math, a little bit of nostalgia, magic, and whimsy.

Oh, and the common thread weaving through everyone at the show? Memories. Some were rekindling dusty but warm thoughts from their youth. Some celebrated a loved one remembered. Some were passing on a personal joy to the younger generation. Some built fresh memories. And some, to be completely honest, were just there to play.

This story was written by Jefferson Township resident and writer James Ihde-Dougherty.

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