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Friday, December 07, 2012

Model train layout has all the whistles and bells

Bob Ford's model train layout includes miniature trees made by hand.

Photos courtesy of Jerry Hale

Bob Ford's model train layout includes miniature trees made by hand.

With close attention to detail and features specific to the area, Bob Ford's model train layout is a Saturday stop on the Charity Chug. The Roanoke Star appears on a hill near the rear of his layout.

With close attention to detail and features specific to the area, Bob Ford's model train layout is a Saturday stop on the Charity Chug. The Roanoke Star appears on a hill near the rear of his layout.

"My plan is to never finish, and I'm right on schedule," joked Bob Ford about the HO-Scale model train layout he's building in the basement of his home in The Waterfront in Franklin County.

Ford does have a slightly more pressing deadline: The SML Model Railroad Group's Fifth-Annual Charity Chug tour is imminent, and his train layout will be open for public viewing Saturday from 1 until 5p.m., on the first of the two-day event.

"It's the building part I really enjoy," Ford explained. "If I ever get 'finished,' I'll have to tear something out and start over."

Portions of the layout, though, are quite capably completed. There's an extensive hillside forest with a picnic scene in a clearing; a river "flowing" into a peaceful lake; a mountain sawmill; and several tunnels and trestles.

The scenery, which Ford describes as "freelanced," is nevertheless specific to this area. Most recently, he's created the realistic main street of Slab Fork, modeled after the actual West Virginia coal-mining town depicted in Model Railroader magazine a while back. Other details are based on the similar burg of Keystone, W.Va., a photo of which appeared in The Roanoke Times in July.

"My layout is a throwback to operational features and surrounds of the Virginian and Norfolk and Western railroads in the 1950s," said Ford.

The track plan, originally sketched on graph paper in 2003, includes separate upper and lower loops, with a multitude of interconnections, sidings and spurs that provide a variety of operational possibilities. The table's clever walk-in feature lets Ford access otherwise impossible-to-reach inner sections of the layout by lifting a hinged section of track to reveal a pass-through.

"I go in there 20, sometimes 50 times a day. I didn't want to be bending down to crawl under each time," he explained.

Ford's wife, Pende, while not actively involved in building the layout, is a kibitzer and cheerleader from October to April when the weather keeps her husband off the lake.

"His hobby keeps him out of trouble. I don't have to guess where my husband is - at least not during the 'train season'" she said.

"He has breakfast, heads downstairs and comes back up for lunch. Then he's back at it again until dinner and often afterwards, as well."

Much of the time goes into assembling, painting and weathering miniature buildings and hand-crafting a wide variety of trees and bushes - thousands of them so far, painstakingly flocked on framework sprigs of Nandina, Butterfly Bush, Crazy Ruffles and other sprigs clipped from around the yard. The resulting vegetation is highly realistic, and other members of the SML Model RR Group have adopted his techniques for creating their layouts' forests.

Ford's favorite features, though, are the vignettes he has tucked into the woods: the picnicking family, a bear-hunting scene featuring a hunter taking a "comfort break" over a log and the bear approaching from his exposed-behind side.

"I refer to him as my bare hunter," Ford joked.

The Ford layout is popular with friends and neighbors who enjoy bringing their grandchildren over for a look.

"I set up for them to make and then 'plant' a tree," he said. "They remember exactly where it is and seek it out on their next visit."

This will be Ford's second year on the Charity Chug; he's been an assistant host at several other layouts, as well.

"Because my layout ranges from bare table to completed scenery, people get a sense for steps and skills involved in creating a model railroad," Ford said. "But by visiting several layouts, they'll see a whole range of modeling scales, regional depictions, scenery styles and operational emphasis.

"And we hope people are generous with their donations," he added. "This is all about helping Lake Christian Ministries make Christmas merry for needy children. What a great way to use model railroading."

2012 Charity Chug

The Smith Mountain Lake Model Railroad Group's 5th-annual Charity Chug opens model train layouts around the lake to the public.

When: Saturday and Sunday, 1 until 5 p.m.

Where: Various homes around the lake. For a complete list and directions, visit www.lcm-moneta.org.

Cost: Donations, which will go to Lake Christian Ministries

Contact: Jerry Hale, 721-7222, or Dave Phelps, 721-1334