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Monday, November 29, 2010

Prep Begins for Holiday Train Show

Prep Begins for Holiday Train Show
Model railroad clubs set up for Dec. 3 opening
(Appeared on 11/29)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Like Santa’s elves, the two teams of model train enthusiasts busied themselves measuring, marking, tapping and taping sections of track to the top of two large platforms.

‘Twas the Sunday before the Friday, Dec. 3 opening night of the Holiday Express Train Show at the Fairfield Museum and History Center on Beach Road and the teams were in the beginning stages of building the track layout.

“We’re trying to get as much done as possible in terms of the foundation,” said Bill Dressler, President of the CT G-Scalers Model Train Club, one of the two teams involved in the event. “Tomorrow we’ll begin placing the buildings, people and scenery.”

He and his five club associates worked from hand drawn plans, placing and connecting track on top of industrial green carpet laid atop long folding tables in the museum’s Jacky Durrell Meeting Hall.

“The tables make it much easier for set-up and for people to see,” said fellow club member and Wilton resident Stephen Auslender. “Normally, trains are laid out on ground level and are permanent.”

The “G” in G-Scale stands for “garden” explained Auslender, as these sets are often integrated into gardens. The gardens consist of live miniature plants like bonsai trees and breeds with tiny flowers and leaves. The G-Scale trains run indoors and outdoors and are twice the size of the classic Lionel trains. The tracks they use are 1 ¾” wide, made of brass and affixed to plastic ties. The brand of both the trains and track is LGB, the acronym for Lehmann Gross Bahn, the West German manufacturer.

“This is the fourth year we G-Scalers have been doing this with the museum, but this year we are doing a more elaborate display,” said Dressler. “It will be multi-level, with five trains running simultaneously and more intricate scenery, buildings, bridges and tunnels. We will be bringing back Thomas the Tank Engine and adding Percy, as well as a stream train, diesel and a live video camera on one of the trains.”

On the opposite side of the room, the Housatonic Model Railroad Club, led by Fairfield resident and President Jeff Dean, connected wiring and track sections affixed to the top of a sectioned wooden platform for the HO-scale trains that they will run at the show.

Dean explained that the HO trains are standard gauge running on nickel-silver rails that are 11/16” wide and mounted on plastic ties. His club, too, has returned for a fourth year and expanded their layout by four feet into an oval-shaped set-up measuring 9’x16’ in total area, with inner and outer track loops.

Dean’s 10-year-old daughter, Maggie, had accompanied him. “She chose to come here over Christmas shopping with her mother. She loves this.”

Dean, 52, said he’d been involved with trains since he was eight and that his first set was a Lionel. He said he has always enjoyed the escapism, history, modeling and electronics involved with the pursuit… and that he and fellow club members like Westporter John Shannon are committed.

“We don’t play with trains. We operate trains. This is a very serious hobby,” said Shannon.

Dean joined the club when he was 17 and became president about 15 years ago. The club has 15 members, several of whom have train set layouts at home. He said his daughter comes to the club and train shows and he hopes she will carry on the traditions.

Fellow club member Jeff Zeleny has been an enthusiast since he was five. “My parents got me an American Flyer set for Christmas and I was hooked. I have a layout in the basement at home, which I’ve been working on for the past seven years. It’s an ongoing project… you never finish it.”

The G-Scalers don’t have a dedicated club space says Auslender. “We meet at individual members’ houses once a month and sit around and talk about our aches and pains. The wives cook then the men play with their trains.”

For the first time, the teams will be joined by Ruth Blackwood, president of Wilton-based Blackwood Associates Event Design and Production. She has an impressive 30-year track record designing events for venues like the Stepping Stones Museum, Westport Playhouse and St. Vincent’s Hospital, and will apply her talents to “add another layer to the train show.”

Specifically, Blackwood, with an assist from Miro Landscaping, will use antique fabrics, garlands, wreaths and Dickens characters to dress up the space and bring out the spirit of the holiday.

Mike Jehle, the museum’s executive director, is glad to have these groups aboard. “The show’s become of the most magical and popular events around the holidays and we couldn’t do it without them. It’s a win-win for all of us that we get to share with the community.”

To learn more about the CT G-Scalers, visit For more info about the Housatonic Model Railroad Club, visit