Seeing kids grow with excitement each time a train passes.
That, says Stephen Ford, is his favourite thing about the Scarborough Model Railroaders Club.
“Days like today are a lot of fun,” the 30-plus-year member said at the club’s Dec. 1 fall open house. “You’re looking out at people, and it’s the kids that will come and stand on one of the platforms and their eyes will peek up and get bigger and bigger.”
Billing itself as “Toronto’s only dual scale model railway club”, the Scarborough Model Railroaders Club is a non-profit organization located on Jeavons Avenue.
The club hosts open houses in the spring and fall that attract thousands of visitors every year.
The next two open houses are set for Feb. 23 and March 2.
Stephen Ford, right, has been a member at the Scarborough Model Railroaders Club for 30 years. He said this is more of a hobby for him than work. ‘You say working, but this is playing,’ Ford said. ‘This is a hobby. We come down here and run the trains for fun and then we come down here other times to do the necessary maintenance.’
The Scarborough Model Railroaders Club has been around for more than 51 years, Ford said. Most of the railways were built when he first joined, but there is always maintenance that needs to be done, he said.
‘Most of these models are models of a particular locomotive that actually existed, that have the right number and the right paint scheme for the dates,’ Ford said. ‘And some of it is completely imaginary. There are some things here … that never existed but have some meaning.’
‘I run some of what we call the weight freights: the local trains that go from one town to another and switch cars,’ Ford said. ‘They deliver cars and pick up cars.’
The Scarborough Model Railroaders Club has two different rail layouts. According to the club’s website, the HO scale layout models the 1950s steam-to-diesel transition era in southern Ontario. The N scale layout is based in the modern era in Appalachia.
Ford said that days like the Dec. 1 open house are his favourite. ‘You’re looking out at people and it’s the kids that will come and stand on one of the platforms and they’re eyes will peek up and get bigger and bigger, he said. ‘And people will find all the little details.
Marcelo Acosta and his children paid a visit to the Scarborough Model Railroaders Club during the Dec. 1 open house. ‘(My son) loves all the models and watching the tiny things moving around,’ Acosta said. ‘This one is quite accurately done, the tiny details are beautiful, which is probably the best thing for him.’
Acosta started appreciating model trains because of his kids, he said. ‘This is something new for me, something I got into with them and we’ve been watching on TV,’ he said. ‘I’d rather have them experience it in real life. It’s like Thomas the Train in real life. … Here you see the models and you can talk to the people that make them, and can understand why they do it and why they have this passion.’
It is a must to have somebody watching over all the trains. During open houses, a lot of trains are running at once, and therefore someone must be overseeing everything to make sure the trains do not bang into each other.
‘The main line is one track so trains that are meeting each other need to know which town to use to pass in,’ Ford said. ‘And trains following each other are the same thing if there’s a slow one ahead of the fast one. So we have one person who oversees all of that.’
Keeping the power flowing to the trains through the tracks can be challenging, Ford said. ‘We used to have a lot of problems,’ he said. ‘When the track gets dirty, the train doesn’t run anymore, the power doesn’t go through. But we’ve experimented over the years with different ways of cleaning them and we’ve seem to come up with one that really works. … We’ve cleaned this about every two years now. I can remember cleaning the track every twice a month.’
Both rail systems at the Scarborough Model Railroaders Club run on electricity pumping through the tracks. The system powering the trains upstairs uses direct current. By manipulating the current, an operator can speed up or slow down the trains, and even reverse their direction.
The railroad downstairs operates differently from the one above, Ford said. ‘Down here the power is always the same and the locomotives have chips in them,’ he said. ‘You address the locomotive with one of the controllers and then you have control of just that locomotive all day, and you can run any one.’
‘Very often a family will come and the mum or the dad will not be terribly interested in trains,’ Ford said. ‘But they’ll come in and start looking at the detail and have a ball, and for the kids it’s just things move. And then we get fellow modellers and they can appreciate on a different level. But it’s fun for everybody. .. And once in a while we’ll get grandpa to come in and grandpa or grandma will remember riding on the old steam train.’
‘People ask when they’re thinking of joining, “What are the prerequisites?” Obviously a vague interest in trains, and the second one is a really thick skin because we tease the heck out of each other,’ Ford said with a laugh. The next two open houses are set for Feb. 23 and March 2.