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Model-railroading hobby still endures, especially at Christmastime

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Model-railroading hobby still endures, especially at Christmastime

Mohawk Valley Railroad has been in business for 40 years
Model-railroading hobby still endures, especially at Christmastime
John Seacord of Mohawk Valley Railroad Company in Rotterdam works on their major operating railroad display, December 3, 2015.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

Model railroading might not be as popular as it was 50 years ago, but as long as men, young and old, are fascinated with trains, the hobby isn't going anywhere.

"I'm still getting new people coming in," said Bob Smith, owner of the Mohawk Valley Railroading Company on Hamburg Street in Schenectady. "We get a lot of families who just bring in the kids to look at our layout here in the store. Yes, I think [the hobby] is in good shape."

Mohawk Valley Railroad has been in business for 40 years, with Smith taking over from previous owner Leonard Walter seven years ago. While there were once several "hobby" stores in the Capital Region years ago, Smith's business is one of just four these days. Just north of the city of Amsterdam on Route 30 is Milepost Hobbies, in business for seven years, according to owner Matt Giardino, while other options for model railroaders looking to add to their stock are Delaware Trains in Albany and JP's Trains and Hobbies in Latham. There's also one Adirondack Train and Hobby outside of Saratoga Springs on Route 29.

PETER R. BARBER/DAILY GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER A Christmas themed train rounds a corner on the tracks of the operating railroad display at Mohawk Valley Railroad Company in RotterdamThursday, December 3, 2015."I've been here for seven years but I've been in the business for 22 years," said Giardino, who is also president of the ALCO Historical and Technical Society, which has exhibit space in the Walter Elwood Museum in Amsterdam. "Our hobby may not be as popular as it was 20 years ago or more, but it is still fairly popular. There are plenty of people who are still really into it."

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One of those people is Dave Magill of Selkirk. He's been involved in model railroading since he was a kid, and he had such a passion for it that trains became his life. He's been working on the real railroad, Conrail and now Amtrak, for 27 years.

"If you love what you do, then you never work a day in your life," said Magill, who became a railroad engineer 25 years ago. "I got into it when I was a kid because we lived near the tracks and my grandfather would take me to see the trains. I actually got to ride around with the guys now and then. But once I got involved that's all I ever wanted to do."

Model railroader Dave Magill's train layout includes a replica of the the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge over the Hudson River.
Magill says his model railroading passion is just an extension of his work life and his childhood experiences, which include riding over the Poughkeepsie Bridge on the Maybrook Line. Fire damaged the bridge in 1974 and the railroad shut it down. The structure was brought back to life in 2009 as the Walkway Over the Hudson.

"I have a layout that fills up my entire basement, and one of my lines is the Maybrook-New Haven line that went over the bridge," said Magill. "I replicated the bridge in HO scale so the model is about 17 feet. The bridge and the Hudson River are big parts of my layout, and pretty much everything I've put up here is something I saw in my job or as a kid growing up."

While there are some exceptions, most serious railroaders prefer HO scale trains.

"Around Christmas time we do get people coming in looking for Lionel trains, but typically HO is the strongest seller," said Smith, who uses Lionel scale for his own layout at Mohawk Valley Railroading. "It's just a more comfortable size. You can have a lot in a small area."

"HO is a good compromise size," said Giardino. "That's where most of the modelers have gone who are really into realism. The HO detail can be very good. That's important to railroaders and that's one of the reasons why the hobby is still alive and thriving. People love the trains, but they also love setting up their layout with realistic stuff."

Model railroader Dave Magill's train layout includes a replica of the the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge over the Hudson River.Magill's layout in Selkirk is HO scale.

"I think HO has the most variety of trains you can buy with very detailed parts," he said. "I think for realism it's the one most people want. The company is constantly putting out new freight cars all the time. You look at any railroad that's operating in the country and you should be able to find it in HO scale."

Don Klose of Schenectady agrees there's plenty to like about HO scale, even though his own layout, twice featured by major railroading magazines, is the O scale, typically linked to Lionel trains.

"The key is that HO is half of O, so the footprints of the buildings are smaller," said Klose. "So some guy using HO can pack double into his layout what I do with mine."

Klose's work, however, has drawn plenty of attention because of the buildings he has made himself to go along with the layout. Many of them are precise replicas of Schenectady's iconic structures, such as Proctors, the Seneca Building, the Gleason Building, the old Schenectady Gazette building, the Hotel Foster and General Electric. Klose says he hasn't made any new buildings lately, but he has been working recently on "weathering" his freight cars and giving them some authenticity.

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"When you look at the box cars crossing a street in Schenectady you don't see any new cars," said Klose. "So yeah, what I'm doing is buying something new and then making it look old. It's a whole weathering process that happens, using pastels, chalk, paints, and I also use black India ink."

And some of those old freight cars on Klose's layout have things inside.

"I enjoy doing all the detail in a scene, and lately I've done a lot of work on the interiors of those box cars," he said. "People can now look and see the loads in the cars and all the other stuff they are carrying."

Klose says he hasn't bought any new trains lately or the accessories that go with them, but when he does he'll go to a hobby store like Mohawk Valley Railroading instead of purchasing items on line.

"I like to support local business, and Bob's done a great job at Mohawk Valley and Lenny before him," said Klose. "I'll do business with a store owner before I go on the web."

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