By Nick Worth
Dan Lutzick, owner of Snowdrift Art Space in Winslow, loves model railroads, but doesn’t have the room to take up the hobby, so on the third weekend of April for the past seven years, he has turned the gallery over to model railroad clubs to set up a display for Winslow Railroad Days.
“It’s how I get my model railroad fix,” Lutzick explained.
It also provides an opportunity for model railroaders to assemble in one place to make a layout larger than they can accomplish on their own.
“We have different clubs show up every year,” said Lutzick, noting that in the past groups have come from Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson and Prescott Valley, a club that has attended every year.
This year’s gathering featured “N” scale modelers from the Point of Rocks Model Railroaders of Prescott Valley, Tucson N Trak and a group from Denver, among others.
The concept that makes the gathering work is the building and use of “modules” that are designed to hook into each other. The groups at the Snowdrift show assembled their modules into two large loops, connected by a section Lutzick built and provides for the show.
Frank Germo of Denver explained the modules are built to a standard 2’x4’ size using exact measurements from the back to each of the three rails of track that run along the outside edge of the module. Using these measurements, a modeler can take his module to any show in the country, such as Winslow Railroad Days, and it will fit with the other modules there.
Each module also has its own electrical system that is also built to exact standards and uses a radio controlled system called Digitrax to control the tiny locomotives. Each locomotive driver has a handheld control and can follow his trains around the layout, controlling their starts and stops and speed.
As for the individual modules, once the standardized components are in place, the sky’s the limit on the rest of the 2×4-foot space. Lutzick said one modeler in the past has built modules representing Mount Rushmore, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and New York City.
Germo had one of the most popular modules at the exhibit. A corner module, it featured a couple of tunnels and a tiny section of a town, including a working drive-in theater showing the movie Avatar. The effect was accomplished by putting a digital viewing device into the module’s backdrop. The module also contained a model steam engine set on rails by itself in a portion of the town.
“That’s a model engine I fried by accidentally hooking into the wrong current,” said Germo. Rather than throw the now-useless engine away, he decided it would have a place on the module as a park feature with a chain link fence around it, like those found in many real railroad towns.
Other modules featured rail yards, small towns, farms complete with tiny model animals in the fields, industrial facilities and other sections of elevated track, usually located toward the rear of some modules.
These were sections of a “mountain railroad,” but did not hook into other modules. John Scott of Tucson N Trak said some clubs have built these “mountain railroads” on their modules to afford extra modeling and operational opportunities aside from the main lines that run at the front of each section.
The “N” scale trains are 1:160 the size of an actual locomotive, or 160 scale feet to one actual foot. This is almost half the size of the more popular HO scale, which is 1:87. Because of this small size, module builders can fit a lot into their assigned space. The business card of the Arizona and Southwest Model Railroad Society and Tucson N Trak carries the slogan, “You can do so much more in N-Scale.”
Lutzick said there is another difference between N-scale and HO modelers.
“HO groups try to be very exact about running their trains to a real schedule,” he said. “They like to model an exact era, where the trains, buildings and cars all match, and they usually run their modules as a point to point system.”
He said the N-scalers bring anything and everything, and favor running their trains in loops. At the show at Snowdrift last Saturday, model antique steam engines were running alongside modern diesel container trains of the type that regularly roll through Winslow on any given day.
“If I want to see what a train looks like going through the Southwest, N-scale is always going to be better,” said Lutzick. “If you want to look into the roundhouse and see the guy with the oil can, you need HO for the details.”
According to Lutzick, N-scale modeling is getting more popular, and the major model train suppliers are putting out more and more products for small scale. At the show, there were trains of every type being run on the huge layout. Passenger trains passed container trains while a coal train with over 20 cars slowly made its way around the loops.
The days of the model train being run in a circle under the Christmas tree are long gone.
“The hobby is very different than what it used to be,” Lutzick said.
By Nick Worth