When the trains of the Willow Brook and Western Railroad glide along the 150 feet of track around the sleepy little town of Harrisville, the memories of five model railroaders wander back to that Christmas morning when they first found model train sets under the tree.
“That’s how I got hooked,” said Wayne Hasty, model railroad enthusiast. “I think the seeds were definitely planted back in the ‘30s, ’40s, and ‘50s era.”
Hasty said in that era the train set evolved from under the Christmas tree to a plywood board, then to the basement, and on and on until it filled every bit of available space.
“I was an S-gauger when I was a kid,” he said.
The little town of Harrisville is an HO-gauge, 1/87th scale, model railroad designed and built by residents of Willow Brook at Delaware Run Retirement Community. The town is named after Larry Harris, Willow Brook’s chief executive officer. He authorized the space of the Roundhouse Room for the model train enthusiasts.
The residents joined forces three afternoons a week to lay track, build, paint, construct electrical hookups, and create contours for topographic features.
Hasty said the age range is 70 years old to 90 plus. “It’s definite a veterans group.”
Don Dillemuth designed the landscape of the mountain and tunnel the trains go through. He wanted an authentic look for his mountain so he used real rocks and natural materials to create it.
“The side of the mountain is North Carolina beach rock,” he said. “We glued them together.”
Hasty said the discussion of building the model railroad began in 2011 and construction started sometime in 2013 with building the tables that support the landscape.
The model railroaders said the non-specific post-World War II town is 183 square feet, including a downtown, an industrial area, a small mountain village landscape, and an amusement park.
To add to the effect of a working city, the table top model has 195 life-like figures of both men and women, 30 animals, 137 motor vehicles, and 15 locomotives with 60 freight cars and five passenger cars.
Hasty said many of the buildings along the main street have finished interiors. He said three of the buildings in the small town are named after his three daughters.
“The cafeteria on Main Street is named after my daughter Beth,” he said.
Two-thirds of the structures were donated and 20 others were built from model kits by the group.
“I don’t know anything about trains,” said Glenn Beaber, one of the model builders of the group.
“Like all model railroad layouts, it is never finished,” Hasty said. “There is always something that can be done to improve the layout or to fix if it gets broken.”
Hasty said the project is a wonderful source of creativity for the group and a stress reliever for caregivers, residents, and their families.
“It brings untold joy to grandchildren whenever they visit,” he said. “It is a mosaic of individual vignettes just awaiting discovery.”
The group held a small ceremony Wednesday to name the railroad and incorporate the town’s name.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.