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By: Doug Atkinson on

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Experience the Delight of Model Railroading in Pennsylvania

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With Pennsylvania's rich railroad history and massive rail network, it should come as no surprise that the model railroad hobby has strong roots here. There are dozens of clubs all over the state, all participating in the wonder of model train building. And all of them know how model railroading can be a fun and educational way to bring people together.

Green Ridge Village model train layoutAt Presbyterian Senior Living’s communities, seniors are encouraged to continue engaging in their hobbies and passions. One of the best places to see that passion in action is at Green Ridge Village. There, an entire room has been set-aside for the Green Ridge & Big Springs HO Scale Model Railroad. With more than 5,000 feet of track, it’s an amazing sight.

The Green Ridge & Big Springs model railroad room holds layouts put together by both Green Ridge Village residents and hobbyists in the Newville, Pa. area. Much of the equipment on display was donated over multiple decades, and the sets are all incredibly detailed. As noted in the name, all the models for the Green Ridge railroad are HO scale, green ridge village model trainor 1:87 models. Lionel and Gilbert trains are used, and the sets contain multiple tracks and several block control units.

The layouts, sets, and scenery draw inspiration from the Pennsylvania countryside, as seen by the native Pennsylvanians who created them.

The history of model railroads in PA

Pennsylvania has a long history of model railroading. Many members of the Pittsburgh Model Railroad Club helped establish the National Model Railroad Association back in 1935, and the Pittsburgh club eventually became the Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum. The museum's main exhibit is a 40' by 100' scale model of the railroad lines connecting Pittsburgh and Cumberland, Maryland, accompanied by information on the history of the route.

Also in Pittsburgh is the Miniature Railroad & Village (MRRV). Located at the Carnegie Science Center, the MRRV is one of the largest and most detailed model train layouts in the United States. It depicts Western Pennsylvania from 1880 to 1930. The original layout started in Brookville, Pa. in the 1920s, but was eventually moved to Pittsburgh. The current platform in Pittsburgh is 83’ long by 30’ wide, which is 60 percent larger than the original. Expert advisors, like a Harvard professor, were contracted to make the new display as lifelike as possible, including mimicking the solar cycle and landscape of Pennsylvania. The display is now intended as an educational tool, sharing the history of Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas.

In the town of Strasburg, commonly called America’s Favorite Train Stop, the Choo Choo Barn draws crowds from all over the nation with its 1,700 square foot layout. While not, officially founded until 1961, the Choo Choo Barn started in 1945 as a small set in one man’s basement. By the 1950s, it had taken over the entire basement and the family opened its doors to the townspeople. It’s slowly grown over the years and is now a major model railroad destination with shops, books, and thousands of model trains.

Also near Strasburg is the National Toy Train Museum. Designed like an old-time train station, the Museum features dozens of exhibits on model railroads and toy trains. The massive collection features models from the 1800s to the present. The National Toy Train Museum was founded in 1977 and is also home to the National Toy Train Library, and serves as the headquarters to the Train Collectors Association.

Roadside America, in Shartlesville, was founded in 1935. It’s an indoor miniature village and railway covering 8,000 square feet. Although the model railroad is not the main focus of the village, there are up to 18 trains, trolleys and cable cars running throughout the display, more than 300 miniature buildings and structures, and 4,000 miniature people doing miniature people things. Roadside America was voted by Road Trip USA as one of the most unique tourist attractions in the United States.

Benefits of the hobby

Clearly, model railroading is incredibly popular in Pennsylvania, and it’s easy to see why. Not only do you get a childlike sense of wonder seeing the trains move around the tracks, but the hobby has practical benefits, too.

big springs ho model railroadThe benefit most people see right away is the development of skills needed to set up and run a model train set. This includes engineering skills to set up the track, electrical skills to wire everything together correctly, and carpentry skills to build model buildings and landscapes.

Once you get a handle on those skills, there are even more to learn! Painting backdrops and models can bring out the artist in you, and designing complex layouts develops logical thinking and planning skills. Some layouts, like the ones at Green Ridge Village, even span multiple levels and take serious planning.

There are other, less obvious benefits as well. For example, building a model railroad is a great way to bring the family together. Many of the famous Pennsylvania model railroad layouts listed above started in someone’s basement, with the help of the entire family. It’s a hobby where everyone can participate together. It’s also a hobby that spans generations. Grandpa, Dad, and Daughter can all enjoy it equally.

Model railroading also teaches a very important lesson for kids: patience. It takes time toGreen Ridge Village Ho model railroad design, build, connect, and run a model railroad; but it’s worth it knowing everything pays off in the end. Sure, you can get something up and running quickly, but it takes time to really perfect your vision. It’s also the kind of hobby where you can keep going back to make improvements. It doesn’t take long before most people realize the real fun is in the journey as much as the destination

Social Connections

A great layout isn’t the only thing model railroaders build. The hobby is also a good way to build social connections. Running a model train by yourself can be fun, but it gets exponentially more fun with other people. The model railroad club at Green Ridge Village regularly gets together to share in the excitement of model trains, and even sometimes travel together outside of Green Ridge Village. The group also holds events for the public to come see the layouts.

We would love to share more information about Green Ridge Village and the many activities available to residents. Opportunities to visit the Green Ridge & Big Springs HO Scale Model Railroad can be found here. For more information, or to set up a personal visit to Green Ridge Village, just provide us with your information and we will be in touch!

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About Doug Atkinson

After graduating from college, Doug worked at a local TV affiliate before coming to Presbyterian Senior Living (PSL). He is now the Social Media Marketing Assistant at PSL, and writes for the blog, produces videos, and creates content for PSL's social media sites.