ORLAND, Maine — In a quiet corner of Orland, off the beaten track, a group is working to re-create the golden age of rail — in miniature.
At a nondescript building on the Back Ridge Road, the members of the Eastern Maine Model Railroad Club work each week on a large HO scale model train layout replicating a number of Maine towns that were once, and in some cases still are, stops on a railroad line: the Bucksport mill, the Bangor steeples, the bridge on the approach to Brownville Junction, among others.
The miniature engines lean heavily on Maine railroad tradition, Maine Central Railroad, and Bangor and Aroostook, along with the club’s fictional railroad line, the Katahdin Valley RR. The cars the engines pull are replicas of those that have rolled along the tracks of Maine.
In a display case in the meeting room, there are cars that have been custom designed by the club members and produce for the club for sale. Some, like the Bangor and Aroostook chip car, were hand-made in the club workshop, and some represent fictional companies, such as Maine Lobster, and Nate’s Round Tuit. The sale of those cars has been a major source of funding for the club, and has raised enough funds to build its headquarters and pay off the mortgage on the land.
The club has been in existence since 1978, according to member Geoff Anthony, who, on a recent Saturday sported a T-shirt bearing the message: “Still plays with trains.”
“There so many different things involved in it,” Anthony said of his interest in model trains. “You can go to one of those model railroad conventions, and you can learn a lot of different things. The educational piece, is one of the things I like about it.”
Just working on the layout involves a lot of different skills, carpentry, art, wiring. At their regular Monday night meetings, some member may spend the night laying track, wiring switches, or painting scenery, while others relax in the meeting room, researching details of locomotives or ideas for layouts, or just talking trains.
And sometimes, they just come in to play with the trains.
Dave McDonald, the club’s president, said he likes creative part of the hobby.
“I like the process of trying to make it look real,” he said.
At the same time, he said, the hobby provides an opportunity for a fantasy life.
“You get to step away from the daily issues, the pressures of life and focus on something you’re creating in your mind and then creating it in your garage,” he said.
Model railroading is sometimes considered an old-time hobby, and, in fact, many of the current club members are retired. It is sometimes hard for this type of hobby to compete with video games, he said.
At the same time, model railroading has changed. Anthony picked up a locomotive and pointed to a small digital receiver inside which serves as the throttle. Using a digital controller, he said, you can control one engine or multiple engines at a time.
“It allows you to do a whole lot of different things,” he said.
McDonald, who in his other life is a director of information services, said he uses his day-time computer skills in his hobby. The controllers can interface with computers and it is often easier to do the programming on the computer, he said. Also, the computer serves as a controller itself, directing the engines and operating switches.
The club has a long history. It started in 1978 in the Bangor area when a group of model railroad hobbyists got together. They created a fictional history of the Katahdin Valley Railroad, the club’s own line, and created a layout that, for a time, had a home in the basement of a building owned by one of the members.
When they lost that home, they looked for land in Bangor, but eventually, another member’s family offered land in Orland. They built the building in 1992. The 15 current members work on the different parts of the layout, creating often highly accurate replicas of the Bangor skyline, or the Bucksport mill, and some that step away from reality, such as the stop at Searsport that is being designed as if a container port had been built there years ago, complete with the container ship, SS Sierra Club.
The club hasn’t held an open house, Anthony said, mainly because the members haven’t felt that the layout was ready.
“We’ve never felt that we’ve gotten to the point where it’s been finished enough to be presentable,” he said. “It’s still a work in progress.”
On the other hand, they do put on a show every November, where they set up a smaller layout. And they encourage the public to come in for visits during the regular Monday night meetings. McDonald said they hope that some of those visits will encourage someone to get involved in the hobby and the club.
“The best way to get involved is to come in and see if there’s something there that inspires you, or excites you,” he said.
For more information about the model railroad club, visit www.emmrc.freeyellow.com.