Written by Chris Boyle Saturday, 30 November 2013 00:00
It’s not uncommon for adults to develop a yearning to relive the simple pleasures and pastimes of their youth. While some take up spending a few bucks here and there to recapture some base nostalgia in the form of a shirt or action figure, there’s a local group of gentlemen who take it to a whole different level.
Since 1947, the West Island Model Railroad Club has given train enthusiasts a place to congregate and indulge their hobby on a grand scale. Club president, Vic Grappone, says he’s personally been interested in model trains since...well, forever.
“I’m 57 years old now, and I’ve been into trains for probably 56 of them,” he said. “It started with a Lionel train set that my father bought me, and that got me hooked very early, which is probably the case with a lot of the guys here.”
“We ask ourselves that question a lot, why do we like trains?” Grappone continued. “It’s just kind of a gut feeling. I like it because I’m an engineer by trade, so I like things that are logical but powerful. But there’s also a certain sense of history.The history of the railroads, how they were built.”
The club, boasting 53 members, currently rents a 5,600 square foot space at 485 S. Broadway in Hicksville where they are currently constructing their masterpiece. The club’s model railroad, named the Allegheny & Western, recreates actual rail lines ranging from Harrisburg, PA in the west, to New York harbor in the east, and as far north as the coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania. The club members have constructed a fully-computerized, double track mainline over 650 feet in length (almost eleven scale miles) spread throughout the vast space available to them.
The timeline depicted is the 1950’s, an era where trains were changing over from steam to diesel, enabling the club to utilize both in their display, along with various scenic depictions of the real-life areas that the railroad line is based on. Houses, bridges, forests, buildings, factories, rivers, cars, train yards, people—the level of detail is astounding, and made to be as accurate as possible based on extensive research, Grappone said, although occasionally some liberties are taken in the name of aesthetics and workability.
“Realistically, it’ll probably be at least 10 years before we finish the stuff that we really want to finish,” he said. “But the point of this hobby isn’t to finish anything. The fun is in the process. We’re basically overgrown kids here reliving our childhood.”
The club started holding annual open houses in 2010 for the public to come and view the progress that they have made on their railroad project each year. The event, which is held in November and December, has become the club’s major fundraiser, and Grappone said that donations are appreciated.
Suggested donations are $5 per person, with a $12 maximum for a family.
Each member of the West Island Model Railroad Club brings unique skills in the creation of the epic Allegheny & Western railroad. Together, their individual efforts successfully contribute very much to the whole, according to Grappone.
East Meadow resident Ken DeNigris, the club’s Superintendent, has been a longtime member of the club.
“My responsibilities are to maintain the railroad in operating condition, repair any problems, and supervise any new installation or building,” he said. “I really love the building. I enjoy putting things together. I like the woodworking, the track work, and the wiring.”
Rich Valente of Sea Cliff has been a member of the club for 23 years, and possesses a variety of skills that the others members have come to rely upon a great deal.
“I put together all of the signal bridges, and I do a lot of the lighting in the buildings and the automobiles, and the installation of the decoders in the engines of the trains,” he said. “As most of us are ‘empty nesters’ or retirees, this (club) gives us a prupose, which is nice. It gives us some camaraderie and a place to socialize.”
Ron Weismann makes the weekly trek all the way from his two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, where previously the only space available to him to work on trains was the kitchen table. Upon joining the Railroad Club, he found the sheer space now available for his hobby to be mind-boggling.
“This is like heaven to me,” he said. “I do a lot of the drops, which are the electrical connections to the tracks that enable the trains to run, in addition to working on some of the scenery. We’re fortunate that, as a club, we have a lot of guys, and each guy brings something important to the table.”
The 2013 West Island Model Railroad Annual Open House will run for three weekends: November 29, 30, Dec. 1, December 6, 7, 8; and December 13, 14, 15. The club is located at 485 South Broadway, Unit 22A, in Hicksville, in the
Broadway Business Center just off Route 107.
“We get a lot of people who enjoy coming down each year and checking out the new towns, buildings, and other touches that we have added,” Grappone said. “It’s always a well-attended event. It’s great for families, and we’ve even made model train converts out of some of the people who come.”
To find out more about the West Island Model Railroad Club, visit their website at www.wimrrc.com or call 516-433-6600.