I gather that for most model railroaders hard at work on their layouts, their trains ride through an idealized America frozen in time somewhere between the early 1930s and the late 1950s.
For the Greater Abington Township Society of Model Engineers, it’s always a specific year, 1953:
In 1953, Dwight Eisenhower was sworn in as president, the Korean War ended, Jonas Salk announced a polio vaccine, the first Chevy Corvette rolled off the assembly line, and color TVs went on sale.
For railroads, it was a time of transition. Steam was in its twilight, and the diesel era was dawning. Crack passenger trains carried Americans to all corners of the country. Interstate trucking was in its infancy, and most of the nation's freight was shipped by rail.
Time is frozen in that pivotal year in the cities and towns served by the GATSME Lines - a magnificent model railroad created and maintained by a club in Fort Washington.
"It's a fascinating time," says Val Pistilli, 65, a member of the club for 40 years. The first-generation diesel locomotives were varied and stylish, and the surviving steam locomotives still exerted their magic. Says Pistilli: "They're full of action. They sound like they're breathing and alive."
But when I look at the handiwork of model railroad builders, which I do whenever I get the chance---one of the things I miss about living in Syracuse is the giant model train exhibition at the State Fairgrounds every November---I don’t see an idealized past, I see an ideal future. The best is yet to come and it’s preserved and predicted in the hearts and imaginations of model railroaders. So I was sorry to read this in the paper the other day:
GATSME stands for Greater Abington Township Society of Model Engineers. Its HO-scale railroad, which it bills as the largest club layout in Southeastern Pennsylvania, covers an area 30 by 60 feet, nearly the size of a tennis court.
On Saturday and next Sunday, the public can admire the club's handiwork when GATSME holds its pre-Christmas open house, the first of several it plans this winter.
Some members worry, however, that this could be the last, amid concern that the club might lose its home in the basement of an old schoolhouse owned by Upper Dublin Township. The situation is "nebulous," says club vice president Jerry Anderson.
Upper Dublin is soliciting proposals for the property, which township officials view as "surplus," says Township Manager Paul Leonard. The township spends $18,000 a year to heat and secure the building, the former Fort Washington Elementary School, part of which was erected in 1891. Other parts of the building are used for dance classes and recreation programs. The model railroad club pays $50 a month in rent.
In weighing what to do with the building, the commissioners will consider impact on the neighborhood, historic value, and price. "I'd love the club to stay," Leonard says. "They're part of the community, and a lot of people like the trains."
If the club loses its home, the layout will have to be destroyed and the club will probably disband, Anderson predicts.
Read the rest of Art Carey’s story in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Or just enjoy this video by the Inquirer’s Laurence Kesterson.