All Aboard

The New York City Model Transit Association is presenting a show June 1 catered to a small-but-growing segment of model building: Rapid transit.

By: Jim Boyle

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The 2002 Model Trolley & Transit Show will feature model-building clinics that will help hobbyists create miniatures like the ones pictured above and below.
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   For many, model train sets only come out during the holiday season. A parent may spend hours connecting the tracks, making sure each is attached correctly or the whole thing won’t work. One lucky child may get to operate the locomotive as long as he or she likes. Most likely, however, there are several children, pushing back and forth, trying to get their hands on the controls.
   For others, seeing models set up, tracks winding throughout the miniature town, through tunnels and under bridges, strikes a nerve. An annual affair can turn into a full-time hobby. They graduate from buying packaged sets to do-it-yourself kits. Soon, they have constructed empires, complete with stores, stations, houses and even people, all held together by the tracks.
   Some hobbyists focus on the traditional freight train, moving between fictional regions. Another focus, barely 20 years old, is rapid-transit modeling, re-creating transportation in the big cities — subways, trolleys and elevated rails.
   The New York City Model Transit Association is presenting a show catered to this small-but-growing segment of model building. The 2002 Model Trolley & Transit Show will be held June 1 at St. Augustine of Canterbury School in Kendall Park.
   "There’s a lot of nostalgia and romanticism," says Steven Olsen, event organizer. "There’s something about a vehicle that’s self-propelled that attracts people. Some kids grow out of it, some don’t."
   This is only the second solo show for the organization. Their regular sponsor moved to King of Prussia, Pa., forcing the NYCMTA to fund itself. Finding the location was the easy part.
   "A lot of our kids go to the school," says Mr. Olsen. "They usually have events every weekend. They have an annual craft fair that does pretty well, so we decided to give it a try."
   Mr. Olsen has been working on the show for more than a year. He sent out flyers to prospective dealers and received more than 600 responses. He then had to design the layout of the room.
   "It’s kind of like a big jigsaw puzzle," he says. "If somebody doesn’t show up, it can get a little hairy."
   The event will offer model-building clinics, displays from dealers and manufacturers, and modeling contests. Mr. Olsen also is putting together a slide show. One of the show’s themes is "Farewell to the Redbirds."
   "Redbirds were subway cars in the ’80s that were rebuilt and painted red to last longer," says Mr. Olsen. "They’ve outgrown their useful lives. The subway fans are sad to see them go."
   Growing up in Brooklyn, Mr. Olsen had first-hand experience with the transit system. He traveled throughout the city using the subways or buses. It wasn’t until his teen-age years that he showed any interest in model trains.
   "I built my first train in high school," says Mr. Olsen. "I didn’t use a kit. I just got some wood and plastic and followed a drawing. I wanted a model of a subway car, but they didn’t make those. I became friends with a guy who had the same hobby, and he taught me some little things."
   More than 20 years later, Mr. Olsen finds himself spending $500 for four-car sets. He has a 30-piece layout in his basement, which he plans to bring to the show.
The 2002 Model Trolley & Transit Show will be held at St. Augustine of Canterbury School, 45 Henderson Road, Kendall Park, June 1, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. $10 admission. For information, call (732) 297-6042 or e-mail Steven Olsen, sctransit@att.net.