HAZLE TWP. – The Anthracite Model Railroad Society opened its doors to the public this weekend for its annual “Christmas in July” open house.
Many attendees said the company was a hidden gem tucked away between 22nd and 23rd Streets at Hanover Court in Hazle Township.
But when attendees walked through the building’s bright red door, they were greeted by 1,800 feet of railroad track and a layout so intricate it transported attendees back to the 1940s and 50s.
The layout comprises two levels, a lower level which contains an exhibit of the main rail yard along the Lehigh River, several industrial areas, and a scene of Jim Thorpe and the surrounding mountains.
The upper level contains a replica of the Jeddo Breaker, a compressed facsimile of the town of Hazleton and the Ashmore roundhouse.
A crowd favorite was a miniature train ride through historic Jim Thorpe in Carbon County, complete with the Asa Packer mansion, train station, church, and even its distinctive parking lot.
Locals also particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Hazleton as it was in the early 20th century, with its unique Broad Street old-world restaurants and businesses that operated on the south side of town.
Club member Dave Orbin provided guided tours for attendees, sharing the historical context of the presentations and taking time to listen to the memories the presentations evoked in attendees.
President Jim Hoegg said club members had a variety of interests, including railroading, model building, and skills such as carpentry, electronics, model building, and photography.
The club’s aim is to portray the history of the railroad in the greater Hazleton area in the mid-1990s, he said.
At its Christmas event in July, the club pops several “Thomas the Train” themed trains, which pique the interest of younger kids familiar with the TV show of the same name.
Once youngsters have a chance to see the exhibit, they often fall in love with trains, in general, and are likely to attend special events at the model train club on a regular basis.
Included in the exhibits is the replica of club member Tony Matukonis from the Bethlehem Steel complex, which includes details of the individual workers and is complemented by background artwork that adds to its authenticity.
A family matter
Tom and Sandra Hoppey said involvement in model train club events began when their son Kael was 2 and wanted to go out to see Thomas the Train.
Kael, now 9, has taken a liking to trains in general, and the family now makes several trips in and out of the area to see rail exhibits.
Kendal Hoppey, 5, also enjoys seeing the various displays, standing on a stool to make it a little easier for him to see the overview as the staff provide information about the railways and the area.
Sandra Hoppey said she was grateful for her son’s interest, which fueled the family’s love of railroad history.
“Worth the trip”
Rich and Rob Murray of Philadelphia discovered the model train display on Facebook and drove two hours to see it.
Both were impressed with the detail of the exhibits and the knowledgeable volunteers who provided a retrospective look at the history of the area.
The Murrays, who are brothers, said they remember when trains and streetcars were a common mode of transportation.
Both are also history buffs and say that railway history reflects world and national history in general.
This was the brothers’ first trip to the Hazleton area.
“It was worth it,” said Rich Murray.
The event continues next weekend from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.