My love of trains started when my uncle, who was a mechanical engineer at the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Pennsylvania, took me for a plant visit when I was 6. Not only did I see colossal machines building other colossal machines, but I rode in a real locomotive. My model building started when I received my first plastic model on my eighth birthday.
I went to Michigan State to be an industrial designer, working with cars specifically. Things went awry due to my immaturity, and I ended up graduating as an industrial arts teacher. After a series of moves, I ended up being the chief learning officer for the global consumer products company, Henkel in Düsseldorf, Germany, from 1999-2002.
It was in Germany that I started building my current train layout. I had just gotten back into model trains in the late 1990s. I asked Henkel that if I built a train layout, would they pay to move it back to the U.S. when my assignment ended? They’d never been asked this before, but agreed. The first version, built in our German house, was 21 by 13 feet using all German lumber and Euro-style wiring. I built the layout so it would come apart and fit into our home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which we still owned. After returning to Pennsylvania in 2002, I was able to enlarge the layout by 6 feet, making the second version at 27 by 13 feet.
Upon my return to the U.S., I was offered early retirement so I took it and started a consulting company. I then was head of training at Toll Brothers, a large national luxury home builder. Retiring in Louisville made huge sense for many reasons, but most of all to be near our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren.
The Louisville house was perfect in many ways, one of which is the expansive, open basement. It enabled me to enlarge the German layout once again to 39 by 15 feet. I hadn’t built any scenery on any of the other versions, but now I was able to really get into making a model railroad, not just plywood with some tracks on it.
Model railroading uses all of the skills I have gained in my varied careers. It employs carpentry, electricity, electronics, crafts, modeling, innovation, and design. Since starting the third version, I’ve learned how to model in brass, build large landforms using corrugated cardboard, make masters and molds for resin casting, and design for laser-cutting. I’m in my early 70s but strive to do new things constantly and have mastered doing 3D design and renderings on my laptop. I post on various modeling forums after each building session and have a loyal following of folks from all over the world. I impart my learnings to them and they reciprocate.
By Myles Marcovitch | Photo Patti Hartog