Model train club's annual open houses
Thursday, November 1, 2018
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Steel mills were once at the center of life in the Mahoning Valley.
They’re still at the center of one of the Youngstown Model Railroad Association’s train layouts.
The elaborate HO-scale layout – which takes up an entire floor of the YMRA’s clubhouse – includes a model of downtown Youngstown, circa 1959, and other familiar scenes from the area and its countryside.
And of course, a steel mill.
The YMRA, 7591 N. Four Mile Run Road, will open its doors to the public for its annual series of weekend open houses, the first of which is this Saturday and Sunday.
More than 2,000 adults, and probably at least that many children, visited the YMRA during its six open house days last year.
Dean DeMain, coordinator of the HO-gauge layout for the YMRA, said the steel mill was added to the layout 15 years ago and remains a work in progress.
Since last year, several improvements have been made to make it more complete and to add motion.
To do so, the club had to reconfigure a section of the mill.
“We added an ore bridge, so we had to move things to fit it in with the blast furnaces,” said DeMain. An ore bridge is a large crane structure on tracks that was used to stockpile and load ore – once a common site at Valley steel mills.
While the club finished the “hot” end of the mill last year, it recently animated it.
“There are ingots being taken off rail cars, ingots being dipped into soaking pits, coils being lifted out by crane,” said DeMain.
Some of the buildings and structures were made from kits the club purchased, but much of the mill was built from scratch.
“The open hearth is all scratch, the internals for a lot of the buildings is scratch built, and all of the animation on the layout is scratch built,” said DeMain.
Another new addition to the HO layout is in the industrial park area, where seven buildings have been added.
The YMRA has about 40 members, and the work is often divided by areas of specialization.
“There are so many different jobs in model railroading,” said DeMain. “Artist (for scenery, painting), engineer (for electrical, animation, mechanical, motors, etc.), woodworking ...”
DeMain’s specialty is on the electrical side and for the HO layout.
The YMRA is one of the few model railroad clubs in the nation with both an HO and a larger O-gauge display.
Overseeing the O layout is Bill Schnierle, a Massillon resident who also owns a farm in Damascus.
His team is currently in the process of installing a train turntable and an 11-bay roundhouse.
“It is in but it won’t be working for the open houses,” said Schnierle. “A club member donated it to us in mid-summer but it is quite a lot of work.”
Schnierle said he prefers the O-gauge trains, which are twice the size of HO gauge. “They are easier to work on,” he said.
The bigger trains also bring back memories for older people, who remember them from their childhood.
“We run the layout from up in the corner of the room, near the door, and hearing people’s reaction when they come in is priceless,” said Schnierle. “It’s ‘oh, wow’ and ‘ahhh’.
“I think adults bring the grandchildren here because they want to see the trains.”