- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Robert Sharp has a pretty impressive model train - one that draws the attention of his 11-year-old grandson Bobby Humphreys.

When Sharp decided he wanted to build his grandson his own set, he needed some extra hands, and a group of model railroaders stepped in to help.

Every Monday and Friday since October, members of the informal group called the Hoosier Lines have been gathering to create the model. It is set up in Alan Heuer’s garage in Bloomington, and not only is the work shared, but the men have also donated materials that have been used to create the elaborate railroad.

Sharp decided to use the Berkshire Valley plan for his grandson’s railroad, with some modifications. To start, plywood is cut. To create the landscape, Trevor Jones said, they initially used cardboard to make sure the design would work and the hills wouldn’t be too steep for the trains to work. Once the design was approved, more plywood was cut.

There are multiple steps that go into creating the model railroad. Track is laid out in an “out and back” plan, which allows for three trains to be running at the same time. On a recent day, Jim Koryta was working on the wiring while others painted, put “gravel” along the tracks or did other finishing touches.



With the train layout nearing completion, it’s interesting to learn how the different features were created. A river that runs through the model is still white.

“Alan’s been doing his river down through here,” Jones said. To make the river bed, Styrofoam and caulk were used to create a base that will eventually be painted the right color. In one part where it appears to be limestone, Jones explains that he used blue foam that was left over from a construction site. A knife is used to cut the foam, revealing a pattern. Jones can then use the knife to cut more lines in the foam to give it the right texture.

Reusing materials helps keep costs down, but by using lightweight materials such as foam, it also keeps the end product lightweight. Jones said broken ceiling tiles can be cut to look like limestone.

“We try to use things to keep it light,” he said.

In the model railroad world, everyone has a strength - or at least has one job he prefers to another. Koryta, a retired electrical engineer, was busy running the wires that will power the trains. Jones and Bob Case are both good at painting and creating scenery.

“That’s why the club’s great - I hate doing wiring,” Jones said as Koryta worked on that particular part.

Jones and Case have worked on other projects together, and Jones admits he can’t tell what work he’s done and what is Case’s work.

Case is known in the group as the one who can paint the tiny figures that are used to populate the model railroads. While you can buy prepainted figures, sometimes the colors are too bright or not acceptable to these enthusiasts. Case said he uses old dental tools for the tiny details on those figures, such as buttons on a coat.

“We’ve all got our strengths,” Jones said.

Such thriftiness also helps with the cost. A completed set can be purchased for $1,200. Sharp and Jones estimated the set they are building probably cost around $400 to $500.

There are buildings on the model that came from other model railroaders who didn’t need those pieces. There is a plan to use cardboard to create an industrial building where children can pretend the railroad is dropping off or picking up items.

Jones is good at spotting a bargain. He has plastic containers with various colors of dirt he’s found that he uses for creating the scenery. He also has a bottle of Kroger cat litter that he’s sifted to make it look like gravel.

When initially thinking of making the railroad for his grandson, Sharp didn’t think he would be able to do anything elaborate.

“I thought maybe we could do this in two to three afternoons,” Sharp said, sparking laughter from the eight men gathered that day to work on the set.

Once the project is done, there is always someone else who needs help with a railroad project. Plus, Jones and the others are preparing for the train show by the Central Indiana Division of the National Model Railroad Association, set for April 2 in Martinsville. There is also the NMRA National Convention, scheduled for July in Indianapolis. The July event will include bus trips to the area that will allow enthusiasts from across the world to see some of the handiwork of these men.

Despite those upcoming events, the men are focused on finishing this project. The set will be broken into two pieces so that it can be loaded into Sharp’s van. Currently the plan is to leave Bloomington on March 18 to drive it to Vienna, Virginia, where Sharp’s grandson lives.

“The van is 48 and 3/4 inches and this is 48 inches,” Sharp said.

Sharp said he has sent a few photos of the model railroad to his grandson, who is excited about receiving it. When Sharp arrives in Virginia, he’s been told, his grandson’s baseball team will be on hand to help set it up.

The team effort that has gone into creating the model railroad is not lost on Sharp, who admits it is better than he imagined.

“As a 75-year-old grandpa, it’s nice to have friends to help you out,” he said.

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Source: Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/1QASB49

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Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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