Now boarding: Model train exhibit scales down big locomotives

Lauren Wanko, Correspondent | December 28, 2018 | Around NJ

Passengers never wait for trains at the New York Society of Model Engineers.

“In fact, we have a saying, that we operate on time, all the time,” said Andrew Brusgard, director of the New York Society of Model Engineers.

Located in Carlstadt, the 92-year-old society has about 5,000 square feet of operating model trains.

“In our society model trains are not the little train that you put under the Christmas tree. We build scale equipment, exact scale proportions. We try to operate our trains just like the real railroads operate,” said Brusgard.

Three different train sizes are displayed. The largest is the O Scale.

“They’re built to a proportion of one-quarter inch equals a foot. The HO gauge trains use a metric system, but it’s pretty close to one-eighth of an inch equals a foot, half O, that’s why it’s called HO. And then we have a small layout of N gauge, which is even smaller than the HO,” he said.

As the trains whiz by, it’s like watching a well-orchestrated production. There’s a control balcony over each of the layouts.

“On The O Scale trains, the operate in what we call a very sophisticated old school system. It’s just electric going to the rails to run the trains. The smaller trains, the HO gauge trains, are operated by a system that’s called the digital command control. It’s a very recent development in model trains, last ten years or so. Each locomotive has a little microchip in it that controls the speed of the train, controls sound effects,” said Brusgard.

There are also about 20 cameras over the layouts.

“The cameras are to go ahead and track location, especially in areas where there could be a conflict as far as that, side swipes or ramming into other trains, as far. And it tells us the spacing you have to keep,” said New York Society of Model Engineers O Scale supervisor Bob Lavezzi.

The models are handmade by members, and many are done from scratch. There’s a circus train dating back to the 1940s. They even recently updated a model to transform it into President George H.W. Bush’s funeral train. The members say all of the detailed scenery, which has taken countless hours to build, is a labor of love. They planted more than 50,000 miniature trees just in one area.

The society also has hundreds of artifacts on display, like lights, tail signs, whistles and bells. The members believe one bell was once on a Lackawanna steam engine. Now, visitors are invited to ring it.

“This is history. This is your history, along with ours, but it is still part of your life. Just imagine if there wasn’t the railroads moving all that food, and produce, and products all over this country. They are amazing what they can do,” Lavezzi said.

Passengers, or visitors, can see the trains leave the station this weekend.