Saturday, September 17, 2011
Retired Transit Authority worker Al Palma, long-time model train enthusiast, oversees 25 sets in his basement
From SILive: Retired Transit Authority worker Al Palma, long-time model train enthusiast, oversees 25 sets in his basement
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - ELTINGVILLE - Though Al Palma retired from the city Transit Authority more than 10 years ago, he continues to have trains on the brain.
The Eltingville resident and Brooklyn native is a dedicated model train enthusiast who recently disassembled his entire collection before having his basement refurbished.
"It got so tremendous," the 61-year-old man said. "And I had multi-levels to maximize space on everything. It became a little tough to manage. I kept on expanding and expanding."
Charlie cars, locomotive engines, diesel cars, die-cast cars. You name it. If it's a train, Palma's probably in possession of it.
And it's not just trains.
The scenery that complements his 25 train sets is as meticulous as it gets. Papier-maché was used to mold mountains and hills. A lake was constructed. Hot air balloons dangle from the ceiling and are positioned not far from helicopters and airplanes.
Portions of the 15 tracks show advertisements for Plymouth cars from the 1950s. A lighthouse sits near model ships and fishermen and other pedestrians in the fictional town.
"A lot of the scenery I did myself," he said. "Through the years, I just kept building up. It was very enjoyable. I would never keep it down. I have to put it back up."
Palma plans on positioning the track differently next time around.
Instead of layering the model rails, the Eltingville resident envisions an L-shaped configuration.
"I'll try to make the shelves underneath it and put all my running trains on display on the bottom," he explained.
Palma received his first model train at the age of 9, when he won a train set from a drug store in south Brooklyn.
"I still have that set," he said.
A monorail train circles an amusement park. (Photo Courtesy of Albert Palma)
Over time, mostly in the last 20 years, Palma has been the recipient of countless model train sets. Some come for Christmas, others for birthdays.
When he goes on vacation, Palma winds up picking up a train. He recently acquired a line modeled after an Alaskan train line.
"I kept on adding through the years," he said.
He's acquired numerous valuable sets over the years at shows and flea markets, including a Santa Fe F3 model for $5. He said the top-shape product is worth at least $300.
"It's not about how much money is spent; it's a matter of how much they're worth," Palma explained.
Palma said he's logged more than 200 hours of work on his trains. Easily.
"It's a lot of fun. When I would get started on it, I'd go and go, and suddenly I'd be like, 'Wow, it's 3 o'clock in the morning,' " he said with a laugh.
For now, the set is packed away, but in a matter of months, model trains will again be puffing away as they tour the suburban and country environment that Palma crafted.
"It shows history and everything. It's beautiful," he said.
Posted by Ghost Guns at 12:22 AM