From the Suburbanite.com: Long-time friends build massive model train
Plain Twp, Ohio —
Jim Young and his wife Dixie haven’t been working on the railroad “all the live long day,” but they have been at it since 2005. A testament to their efforts and those of several friends now occupies a significant portion of their basement. The massive model railway on steroids, measures 12-feet wide in some places and spans the 23-foot length of the room. It has emerged as a labor of love for the Youngs and a childhood friend of Jim Young’s from his days growing up in Philadelphia.
Len Bojanowski is a retired police detective who still lives in Philadelphia, but has helped the Youngs build the basement railroad. He and Young first met when they were 6 years old. Young recalls seeing Bojanowski sitting on the steps in front of his family’s home and asking him to play.
“How are you friends with someone for 65 years?” Young asked. “All I remember is that Len spoke Polish and I didn’t speak it at all, but we went out and played that day and have been friends ever since.”
Bojanowski echoed those sentiments, “He’s more than a friend, he’s a brother to me.”
When they were 15 years old, the work on a model train started, but was never finished. So when the Youngs moved into their current home in 2005 and decided to undertake the train project, Bojanowski pitched in, along with other friends who contributed to the railroad as well. Using parts and components from old model train sets of the 1940s and ‘50s and others bits and pieces acquired along the way, Young slowly pieced the railroad together.
“This piece over here I got from a guy who designed it and won a contest,” Young said, gesturing to one of the project’s three “towns” located in the far corner of the basement. “I really didn’t do much to it other than add a truck.”
All around the room, Young has set up a fictional world that pays homage to his childhood, and a tongue-in-cheek jokes in the form of a massive J-shaped track. The train station is a replica of the Frankford Junction in downtown Philadelphia where he and Bojanowski would go and watch the trains as children.
“We would be standing out there on the platform watching them come in and the conductors would be blowing their whistle and yelling at us to move,” Young said.
Another landmark of old Philadelphia replicated in Young’s model is the Chinese Wall, which ran through his neighborhood growing up.
“Trolley cars would run underneath it and it really blocked out the sky in a lot of places,” Young recalled.
Other parts of the model railroad aren’t so historically themed. There’s a skinny dippers running from an angry bear near a pond. In another spot would-be bank robbers being apprehended by some very small police officers. The officers and their miniature police car, with flashing lights, were a gift from Bojanowski, who brought them during a visit and surprised Young by installing them.
There is also a working amusement park that Young built at his wife’s urging. He recalled coming downstairs one day and finding the parts for the park laying in his work area. From there, he fashioned them into a reasonable facsimile of Woodside Park, an amusement park he and Bojanowski went to during their childhood. The amusement park has a working roller coaster, Ferris wheel, carousel, bumper cars and even a roundabout ride with teacups.
The system is elevated a full four feet off the floor, which Young characterized as a standard height to lift a model train set by building stilts and supports underneath.
“I’ve seen some railroads lifted even higher,” he said.
When visitors come to the house, they inevitably find their way to the basement and want to see the railroad in action. Young obliges, dimming the lights so the track’s own lighting can shine even brighter and the multiple trains can take center stage. The project is actually a continuation of something he began working on at he and Dixie’s previous home. The couple originally moved to Ohio in 2005 when Jim was laid off from General Electric and found a new job with Goodyear, where he worked for 26 years. Bojanowski remained in Philadelphia and retired from the city’s police department in 1995. The two men have kept in touch over the year and Bojanowski was a logical choice to help with the railroad because of his attention for detail. Young, himself an artist, painted some of the backgrounds surrounding the tracks. The entire project is nearly complete, but not quite.
“It’s almost done, but there are still a few details and small pieces to work on. I’m working on all of the controls and the switches now,” Young said. “But everyone who comes over definitely wants to see the trains.”