By Tim Ashley
KOSCIUSKO COUNTY — Upstairs in a more than 100 year old barn west of Milford in Jefferson Township, it could be said Micah Hensley is living out a boyhood dream.
He grew up in Virginia and remembers his father buying a model train set for him and his siblings to share. “It was an HO scale electric train,” Hensley said. “I always had an interest in trains,” remembering when he was old enough to drive he made friends with local railroad workers.
Hensley remodeled the barn somewhat such as putting in new floors, moving walls and painting. And it has turned out to be the right place to build an HO scale model train layout.
“I am building a point to point layout with industries along the way where trains go to and leave specific yards,” he said.
It is a work in progress and as of the first week in August, some of the trackage was in place with a few train cars running but much work remains to be done. When the weather is nicer, being outside is more often the choice.
“It’s easier to work in the barn on dreary days,” he said, admitting it is a big bonus to have an actual railroad line (CSX) less than a half-mile away from his property.
Model railroading is a popular hobby and for some has been an ongoing process of adding to their layout. John Hanske of Syracuse has had the hobby since 1974 and has an elaborate layout in the basement of his home.
It is modeled after the specific areas of Dunsmuir, Calif., to Portland, Ore., to Spokane, Wash., in the year 1973 utilizing the Southern Pacific Railroad and Burlington Northern Railroad. Hanske made up his own rail line, the Burlington Southern, a combination of the two.
He meets with a group of 20 to 25 men and they operate model trains using timetables and programmed to deliver cargo from one place to another. “It’s a lot more fun to act like it’s the real thing,” he said. “Each car has a specific destination with orders. There is a scheme of operating with each car.”
On a Friday morning earlier this month, other model railroaders Dick Berry and Joe Berger stopped by Hanske’s home. The three have extensive experience with the hobby and offered advice for those just starting or perhaps thinking of starting.
They said to start small “and keep building and building” one piece of track at a time, one engine at a time, etc. It helps to research what you want to model ahead of time. This keeps the process more focused and less frustrating.
“It helps to get in touch with other modelers,” Berger noted. He added if someone decides to be an operator, they should model after a specific railroad line “because it can save you time and money.”
Berry said a very small train layout tends to cause more frustration. “The trains won’t stay on the track,” he said.
Berger suggested when first starting, use the more simple kits when putting together the various buildings in a layout. He said some modelers can find enjoyment in putting together the buildings, while others like the detailed scenery, the electronics involved or building the train engines.
“It (the layout) can be simple and still be a lot of fun,” he said.
Digital command control, or DCC, has made model railroading simpler. “No matter where you are, you can send a command to a train,” Hanske said. “You can run trains without regard to how the track is wired,” and there is no need for complicated toggle switches.
“The voltage is all on the track and you are basically sending radio signals to the trains,” he added.
Buying layout items is more often done online now, especially since hobby shops are becoming a thing of the past. Hanske said the closest hobby shop still open is Hall Hardware Store in Goshen. Swap meets is another way to obtain what is needed for a layout.
“As you grow, you can add on the power you need,” he commented.
And, of course, it boils down to how much time and money a person has.