By Kraig Klein and Jedine Daley
BOHEMIA, NY, Oct. 20—Steam billowed inside the small warehouse, pushed by the echoes of ringing bells. The miniature train flew past a plastic countryside, passing on its way a church with a just married couple. It also passed the eyes of a young boy, Zachary Stace, who peered over the edge of the table at the train as it chugged through Central Operating Lines, Ltd.’s train diorama.
“[Miniature trains] are so interesting,” Stace said. “It’s just fun to watch them go by.”
The miniature train organization held an open house in Bohemia on Sunday, giving the public an insight into model railroading. The open house displayed miniature sized trains moving around a warehouse-sized model city, and featured a food drive for Island Harvest, a food bank in Long Island.
On the day of the event, passersby were invited to walk into the club’s warehouse, filling up the limited space between maquettes. The displays use a combination of vintage train models, downsized recreations of city structures and famous New York City landmarks like the Flatiron Building, and complex electrical circuits to give the illusion of life to a miniature city. Some of the attendees brought their children to look at the miniature locomotives puff steam as they traveled along the rails, but the children were not the only ones who appreciated the handwork of the club members.
“[Watching the trains] brings back childhood memories of a simpler life,” John Marrian, a visitor, said. “It’s a city and place that runs on its own.”
Central Operating Lines first began construction and operation in 1976 in Holtsville. The club then moved to Holbrook and then Babylon before finally settling in Bohemia in 2012. It is the oldest “O” gauge model railroad club on Long Island, and is known for helping to support local charities.
“When I see children’s faces [light up] when they come to [our] open houses, [I have a great time],” Michael Wirshup, a club member, said.
Club president Joseph Mancusi has encouraged visitors over the years to join the club and contribute to its jovial atmosphere.
“[I enjoy] having a good rapport with [the other guys] and helping each other. [It’s also fun] to see the public’s reaction when they see the layout [of the miniature railroad],” Mancusi said.
Mancusi first joined the club fifteen years ago, but only became president in 2017. Trains picked his interest when he was five or six years old, and found the construction of miniature model sets intriguing. He now oversees a group of train devotees who also recall falling in love with trains at a young age.
“I was a kid in the 50s,” Rocco Meliante, a club member, said. “All we had then was [toy trains] and stickballs. We would make trains out of orange crates and stickballs.”
Coming together for a common interest, the members of the organization have formed friendships and relationships that allow them to learn from each other, and support each other in and out of the club.
“[The club] keeps me busy, and it exposes me to a lot of different people, like mechanical engineers and electrical engineers, whom I have worked with and become friends with,” Mike Block, club vice president, said. “I get to learn from these people by working with them.”
The club has a $40 monthly membership fee that is used to fund and support the organization, said Block. The building where the models are displayed houses them all the time, and members are allowed to come in and run the trains to their hearts’ content.
“That fee pays [for] at least 80 percent of our rent, so if we didn’t have that—Unfortunately, we probably wouldn’t be here,” Block said.
Joined for a common interest, all members of the club enjoy working with each other, and focusing on a single goal: carrying on the legacy of miniature train hobbyists.
The organization plans to have more open houses between Nov. 16 and Dec. 17, as well as between Dec. 8 and Dec. 22. Following this month’s food drive is a toy drive next month to give toys to children in local hospitals.