Bradenton Area Convention center hosts model train expo

vmannix@bradenton.comFebruary 28, 2013 

PALMETTO -- Steven Haber got into model railroading in an unusual manner.

Upon his retirement, his wife gave him an ultimatum.

"She kicked me out of the house and said don't come back until you've got a hobby," the 66-year-old said.

So Haber retrieved his deceased father's trains and that hobby became a passion he shared with his children and grandchildren and, hopefully, a wider audience this weekend.

The 35th annual Train & Model Railroad Expo is Saturday and Sunday at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. It's being hosted by RealRail -- Railroad Education and Learning Center of Florida, Inc. -- comprised of 40 devoted area model train enthusiasts that was started 38 years ago.

The event will take up much of the center with modular layouts, model railroad exhibits and more and is expected to attract enthusiasts from Fort Myers to Tampa.

Area Boy Scouts can also earn their Railroading Merit Badge at the Merit Badge Clinic Saturday, according to the Manatee District of the Boy Scouts of America.

"It's going to be a fun event for the whole family," said Haber, the event director and RealRail member. "We'll have layouts galore, show how to properly lay out track, and have kids actually run trains them

selves."

Among the layouts are:

n A train made out of Lego blocks in a downtown Tampa setting also made of Lego blocks.

n A train running through a landscape ravaged by various disasters.

n A classic train running through a setting of towns and farms, etc.

"All are electric but one is battery operated," Haber said. "We'll have a Comet HO layout where kids can run the controls."

Exposing youngsters to the enjoyment of model trains is the primary purpose of the event, which will be attended by representatives of the Lionel Collectors Club of America which has 8,000 members worldwide.

"This is an opportunity for our members to get involved, promote the hobby together and attract younger members," said Al Kolis, LCCA's past-president in Howell, Mich.

Ray Hazen related to those words.

He's 74, a retired electrical engineer and had trains as a child.

"Then I took a pretty long leave of absence from them," the RealRail member said. "But shortly before retirement I figured I'd take then up again."

Why?

"There's still something romantic about it and many of us are caught up in those memories of when we were young," Hazen said.

That resonated with Kolis, 54, who recalled winters past when his father would set up his trains every Christmas.

Like Haber, he's got those trains now. They're on a 300-square foot layout in his basement.

"When I go down there after a tough day at work, the sight and smells of those trains bring me back to my childhood, a happy state of mind," he said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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