Tuesday, October 15, 2019


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Pennsburg Railroad Enthusiast Builds Miniature World
Written by Kelly Chandler Staff Reporter

Nancy Gingrich of Pennsburg has built a backyard model train layout and hopes to spur interest in the hobby with area youth.

        Nancy Gingrich has been working on the railroad.  She's also been a truck driver, a bus driver and a taxidermist. 

        But it's the model railroading hobby which has perhaps brought Gingrich the most joy.  She's been working on constructing a backyard display at her Pennsburg home for the past few years. 

        "There were always American Flyer trains around when I was younger.  I don't remember a time when they weren't there," she said.  "I grew up in the steam train era.  It's just a reminder of the old days."

        She now uses G scale (ranging from 1:22-1:32) model trains, used for garden railroading. 

        Gingrich, who jokes that people probably refer to her as the "eccentric old lady who plays with trains," said she started collecting about three years ago when she found an engine at the Perkiomenville Sale flea market.  After that she began piecing together track and buildings and crafting scenery. 

        She purchased a unique model of the Silverton, Colorado courthouse which was haphazardly hot-glued together and needed a lot of TLC.  She said she took it apart, piece by piece, soaking it in boiling water to make it pliable.  She then used furniture clamps to restore it and it's now one of the crown jewels of her layout. 

        A barber shop pole is made out of a plastic tube, with graphics curled inside, with a white marble on top.  A barn silo was fashioned out of PVC pipe and coffee stirrers; an electric fence with wire, bamboo skewers and gold beads to represent the insulators.   She's currently working on creating field corn rows out of skewers and real dried corn husks.

        "I've tried to build everything I have here as inexpensively as I could," she explained.

        Her layout is one-of-a-kind.  A steam engine weaves its way past a train maintenance area, complete with sheds, coaling and sanding towers, to a small town with a road through the middle.  That town includes a vintage diner, church, train station and platform, along with early 1900's homes.  It sports working Christmas lights along the utility wires and lit-up signs. 

        The train then passes by an old Victorian house and scenery perfect for Halloween.  During that time of year, Gingrich said she has a light and sound feature which mimics thunder and lightning, and a mister which makes fog emerge from the grounds.

        It moves on past a farm and livestock scene, along a figure eight track, to travel through a huge man-made rock with a water feature and working sawmill beneath.  The rock was made out of screening and geodesic foam which Gingrich painted in layers.

        Along the rock is a ski slope scene, complete with working Gondola cars on a pulley system beside skiers of all ages trying out the bunny and more advanced slopes.

        The retired Upper Perkiomen bus driver said it came together piece by piece.  She utilized her taxidermy skills to build scenes.  She also built on her knowledge as part of the North Penn S-Gaugers club and the South East Pennsylvania Garden Railroad Society.

        "You make it what you want," she said.  "It's always a work in progress.  I always told my kids anything is possible if you really want it."           

        Gingrich said the layout, which borders Pottstown Avenue, has been a real draw in the community. 

        "People stop all the time.  They honk their horns; I hear screeching tires as they stop to get a look.  I didn't even know my neighbors except on the one side before I started this," she said, noting she especially enjoys having kids stop by.      

        "Like anything that's old it's going to disappear and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, they're only going to be able to read about it in books.  To preserve this kind of hobby is to preserve history." 

        Gingrich hosts a Christmas open house each year, the weekend before Christmas, and hopes to encourage others to take up model railroading.

        "I want to get kids involved in trains instead of the bad things in life.  It has all kinds of components, electronics…It gets kids outside and hands-on with something.  I'm just hoping this inspires people." 





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