UNION, NJ — It was a particularly busy morning for Tim McCollum as he had to make room in his freight yard for about 100 cars that would be arriving soon.
“The track is busy this morning now, isn’t it?” train dispatcher Bob Nalbone said to McCollum.
McCollum finished moving several cars and he finally had enough room for the ones that were due any minute.
“This just never gets old,” he said with a smile.
For the Model Railroad Club, model trains are more than just a hobby.
The A. Paul Mallery Model Railroad Center is situated behind the Home Depot on U.S. Route 22 and members meet every Tuesday night for operating sessions. The almost 20 miles of track features detailed handmade scenery, dozens of trains and figurine passengers waiting at train stations.
Every three weeks is a full operational day, and this evening was the morning shift, and all the figurines were headed to work.
“This club has something for everyone. We have members who just come and run trains, others who do track work, people who do construction and some that deal with wiring and scenery,” said McCollum, who’s been president of the club for the past three years.
While the club is open to the public every Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m., it will soon be open for three consecutive weekends as it transforms into the club’s annual Holiday Sound and Light Show. The show’s opening day is on Friday, Nov. 23, and it will run on the weekends until Sunday, Dec. 9.
The 30-minute long show will feature a tree, menorah, lighting effects and narration.
“The theater lighting puts spotlights on various parts of the railroad that goes along with the narrative of the story,” McCollum mentioned.
The club was founded in 1949 by Paul Mallery, which is who the facility was named after when they moved to it in 1971. The club had been run out of Mallery’s basement until his retirement. Next year will be the club’s 70th anniversary.
“Our founder’s vision was to have a living museum for the railroad and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish here,” he said. “It’s perpetually 1954 in here.”
The club has been putting on the holiday show since 1984, and it was first created not only to show off their intricate work, but also to help pay for the building’s upkeep.
All three parts of the railroad club’s layout — the Hudson, Delaware, Ohio line; Trenton Northern; and Rahway River — are incorporated into the narrative.
The building is considered part of the county’s Lenape Park, but the club is responsible for maintaining and operating the space and pays for its operations through member dues, shows and donations.
“Everything that you see here is 100 percent sweat equity,” Pete Ezzard, another member, told LocalSource. “We are lucky enough to have members that are licensed engineers and architects.”
He explained that many of the aspects their HO, or 1:87 scale, layout are modeled after stations from the 1950s.
“We are fictitious, which means we get to pick the elements that we want without having to be truly faithful to a particular time and place,” Ezzard explained.
Some more recognizable structures are the Summit, Trenton and Kenilworth railroad stations.
The club has more than 100 members who range in age from 12 to about 90. They are considered one of the largest model railroad clubs in the country.
Members use digital command control, which is a system to operate model railways digitally. Locomotives on the same electrical section of track can be independently controlled with this system and it allows them to run so closely together.
“DCC gives us complete control and adds a level of realism to the track,” McCollum added.
Tickets and more information are available on the club’s website at www.themodelrailroadclub.org/advance-show-tickets/.