Thursday, October 4, 2012

Yankee Stadium and Beyond: A Brookfield Doctor's World of Model Trains

From  Housatonic TImes:  Yankee Stadium and Beyond: A Brookfield Doctor's World of Model Trains

BROOKFIELD—A New York Central Railroad train pushes past Yankee Stadium, and outside the park anticipation of upcoming postseason play is pal­pably felt from fans milling around streets in the Bronx.

The train then wraps around the rest of the upper borough, where it contributes another layer to the cacophony of urban sounds such as construction work and traffic and another train elevated on a track overhead.

Then the nine-car loco­motive sets its lamps on the island of Manhattan, and the world’s most recognizable cityscape towers above a train full of passengers.

After that, the train turns northbound, and travels to upstate New York, where country landscapes flash past the windows. People can be seen hanging out by watering holes, frolicking about, and one young couple under a tree shares their first kiss. And from there, it heads along the southern ridgeline of the Adirondack Mountains toward New Eng­­land.

But there’s something curious about these scenes and everything that makes them up—it’s not contemporary but looks to be straight out of the late 1960s.

This is merely the first half of a fantastic American journey, one designed by a local resident, Dr. Kenneth Pellegrino of Brookfield Family Medicine, in a single room of his basement. What is described above is the path of his scale model railroad, an elaborate setup crafted with MTH Electric Trains. It’s so intricate and functional that it took him the better part of a decade to complete.

“Well, I started planning this when we decided to move into this house in 2002, and it took me a year to plan,” Dr. Pellegrino said of a design that seems to compress much of the Northeast into a 25-by-15-foot space. “Then it took me eight years to build, from 2003 to 2011.”

The rigging is fantastic on this O-scale (48:1) model layout that features 25 cars and six engines (it includes the Union Pacific and New Haven lines). Made to scale, there are at least 50 automobiles, and seemingly all of them, from the Volkswagen Microbus to the classic Ford Crown Victoria, fit the era. In addition to all of that, there is something like 200 little people contributing something to the show, ranging from rock climbing or barbecuing to running across busy city streets.

The train cars have advertisements for such things as Monarch Foods and Puritan Hams. There are tunnels and railroad yards and ponds and delis and garages and municipal service buildings—even an Elephant Car Wash and an OK Used Car Dealership. Dr. Pellegrino has a mural of the Adirondack Mountains that his daughter painted displayed against the back wall.

The details are pain­staking. Considering that he assembled this all, probably 300 feet of track and maybe $10,000 worth of materials, in only eight years, the feat is impressive—especially because he also works as a general practitioner.

The steam engines emit tiny trails of harmless smoke, and an infrared sensor ensures that whenever the train crosses a street the red lights flash and the bells go ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding. The jarring sounds of jackhammering in the Bronx, the friendly voice of a car wash servant somewhere upstate and the alarming wail of a fire engine in suburban New England all add to the amalgamation.

“I’ll turn this on and then (a model house) will start to smoke,” said Dr. Pellegrino, who controls the figurative/literal bells and whistles by switches he’s installed underneath the tracks. “I’ll call the kids in and they’ll get nervous when they see it, and so I’ll say, ‘Gosh, we better call the fire department.”

He also controls the fire engine that exits the nearby fire station. When the house goes up in flames (red lights flicker inside) and a fire company comes to the rescue. In similar fashion, other homes and buildings have stories to tell.

As the soon-to-be grand­father toys around with the set, a framed picture of him above his shoulder shows him playing with a model train as a teenager back in 1960s Long Island. His enjoyment is a lifelong one, but even in his previous Brookfield home the layout he set up in the attic couldn’t nearly compare to this current one.

Its size isn’t the only notable quality. It’s those human touches that make the layout of this married father of three so extraordinary. That young couple smooching under the tree—that’s his son and daughter-in-law. Those baseball fans outside Yankees Stadium, that’s his family.

There’s something about the overall scenery that pertains to his upbringing, which took him from Long Island to Syracuse University to Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx to Brookfield, where he has raised a family and in 1981 helped found Brookfield Family Medicine.

He said injecting pieces of one’s past adds significance to the setting, and gives it a more human feel. But there are three details that cannot be overlooked: people, automobiles and trees. The first two he has not skimped on, but even with about 200 trees on location he still wants to add more.

“To give it realism,” he said, “it can’t just be trains going around.” 

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