There's something magical about trains that time and high-speed travel can't erase.
The 23 members of the Ann's Choice Model Train Club couldn't agree more. These enthusiasts have been hooked on everything railroad-related since they were kids. They derive immense pleasure from sharing their hobby with other residents, through permanent layouts in the community's three clubhouses and with special displays during the holidays.
The first loop
Ann's Choice resident Ken Longman started the club when the Village Clubhouse was completed. With wholehearted support from the Ann's Choice staff, they set up their first layout under the spacious stairwell. Al Bradley, another founding member and current treasurer, donated the 8- by 5-ft HO-gauge loop.
Says longtime club member Jack Robbins, "Ann's Choice has been incredibly generous to us. When the Liberty and Keystone clubhouses opened, they gave us the spaces under the stairwells for more layouts and a huge room for a workshop. This allows us to keep the trains running on time and in top condition."
The club also created an outdoor train garden, complete with raised trestle and a weatherproof track. Ann's Choice's landscaping staff removed shrubs and dug the trestle bed. Says Jack, "We keep the track up all year and bring the trains out once a month, usually after Sunday brunch. Many grandkids are visiting, and they can't wait to see the trains. Even with all their electronic toys, they get as excited as we did."
Fun for all
To make the trains accessible to all residents, club president Bob Swan and member Lowell Schultz devised an ingenious system of motion detectors and pushbuttons. Jack explains, "The motion detectors turn on the lights, which activates the pushbuttons. The trains run for one minute, then shut off automatically. This minimizes the wear and tear, and anyone can operate them without a club member present."
The club is active all year, but particularly busy between Thanksgiving and the second week of January. Ann's Choice staff remove the furniture from the Village clubhouse lobby, and the members build a two-loop, 10- by 10-ft Christmas village layout filled with holiday-themed miniatures. On the second floor Lowell adds a roller coaster, hobbyhorse, swing, and giant erector set. The entire layout takes more than a week to construct and several days to take down.
Jack explains that the train only operates on select days, as "It's complex, so only club members run it. We hand out candy canes to the kids. It's a special treat everyone looks forward to every year."
Not surprisingly, many club members were engineers—not train engineers, although they would have loved that when they were youngsters. "We have electrical, mechanical, and construction engineers. Lowell worked on several space-agency projects. It's a talented group with the right skill set to keep the trains in peak condition," says Jack.
The club meets monthly to review the layouts and discuss needed repairs. Says Jack, "The small HO-gauge requires little attention, but the larger S- and O-gauge engines must be well lubricated or they wear out quickly."
The group is self-sustaining. Members pay a one-time fee to join, and they are paid to run displays at area train shows. Occasionally they sell unneeded equipment. "These activities keep us in business, and it's great to get paid doing something you love," says Jack.
The group has travelled to area railways to 'play with the big trains,' and they eagerly visit train displays set up by other organizations. "A love of trains is something you never outgrow," says Jack. "Thanks to Ann's Choice, our club will stay on track for many years to come."
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