Aberfoyle Junction's display model railway
is a train lover's paradise
Wayne Pfeiffer and his fellow railway enthusiasts have handcrafted
this miniature city complete with a busy train station and
a switching yard.
Photo by Martin Schwalbe
Ask Prof. Wayne Pfeiffer, Agricultural Economics
and Business, to explain his lifelong passion for trains
and he tracks it all the way back to a defining moment as
a four-year-old in Nebraska in 1949.
He recalls how the family farm lay within view of two busy
railway branch lines. One day not long after his father
had helped him assemble his first-ever train set, Pfeiffer
watched an engineer leave an idling locomotive on the siding
and cross the field toward their farmhouse. It turned out
the man had recognized Wayne's father from their service
during the First World War.
For the youngster, the shining moment came when the engineer
reached into a pocket, pulled out a silver dollar and pressed
the coin into his small hand.
Years later, Pfeiffer is still playing out the dream of
many a youngster who grew up during the 1950s, as a member
of Aberfoyle Junction, a self-styled Group of Six whose
lifelong love for the Iron Horse coalesced more than two
decades ago into the ultimate model train layout.
A "miniature railway museum" or a "display
model railway" is what he calls the sprawling waist-to
eye-level display in an unassuming steel building in Aberfoyle
that draws about 3,000 visitors a year, mostly from southern
Inside the front entrance is a collection of railroad memorabilia,
including a long-handled hammer donated by a former Canadian
Pacific executive that was used to drive in the ceremonial
last spike during construction of Toronto's Union Station
in the 1930s. Playing on an overhead TV monitor is a video
of the display that the group produced last summer.
Step through another doorway and you've entered a train
Erected on a waist-high frame running around three sides
of the 3,500-square-foot room, the display represents southern
Ontario from farms to the outcroppings of the Niagara Escarpment
to a Lilliputian-sized city complete with a busy train station
and switching yard.
The display is meant to represent the late 1950s, a key
turning point in railroad history as the era of steam gave
way to another. "Steam and diesel were both on the
rails together in those days," says Pfeiffer.
He and the other Aberfoyle Junction members have handcrafted
a miniature environment over the years, just as they have
collected or built the display's miniature trains that travel
amid the scenery, wait at stations and go about railway
operations in the switching yards and roundhouses.
Modelled after real-life behemoths, mostly owned by CP
and Canadian National railways, the collection comprises
more than 50 locomotives, 200 freight cars, 60 passenger
coaches and about two dozen cabooses. All the trains are
modelled to "O" gauge or 1/48 life size. (Most
home hobbyists collect "HO" gauge models, only
half the size of those on display at Aberfoyle.)
The steam locomotives in the display were hand-made from
plans obtained from the railroad companies. "We get
the exact drawings that the companies used to build the
real locomotives," says fellow Aberfoyle Junction member
Chuck Bard, adding that all of the passenger coaches are
also built from scratch.
The oldest real-life locomotive modelled in their display
was a steam engine built by CP in 1885. The oldest model
itself, constructed in 1971, is patterned after the Royal
Hudson locomotive, which headed the train that King George
and Queen Elizabeth used to tour Canada in 1939.
None of the Aberfoyle Junction crew ever rode the rails
for a living. Frank Dubery, who worked at Ontario Hydro's
Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, and his wife, Gay, began
building the original display in 1972 in a barn at the Aberfoyle
Antique Market. Bard, a retired electrician, joined them
with his wife, Gwen, a graphic artist. Her creations include
the display's scenic backdrop and several paintings in OVC's
Small-Animal Clinic. Craig Webb, a retired schoolteacher
from Hamilton, is a railway historian with special expertise
in passenger operations.
Running the display involves all four men at the controls
in an elevated platform above the display. One crowd-pleaser
is their choreographed night scene, including two minutes
when the only light in the room comes from hundreds of tiny
bulbs on the display and the illuminated windows of passing
Word of Aberfoyle Junction has spread widely among model
railroaders and collectors - a growing fraternity, according
to Pfeiffer. Twice while travelling on trains overseas,
he has struck up conversations with seatmates who have not
only turned out to be avid modellers but who, unprompted,
also mentioned a must-see if ever in Canada: the Aberfoyle
Junction Model Railway.
"We had a regular from Texas who would fly his Lear
jet into Kitchener-Waterloo Airport to attend our shows,"
His own preferred mode of transportation is still the train,
even during numerous overseas trips for international development
projects that have taken him across six continents in his
nearly 30 years at Guelph.
Aberfoyle Junction runs spring and fall shows that Pfeiffer
says appeal not just to diehard fans but also to ordinary
visitors looking for the nostalgia and romance of a bygone
era, as well as a growing number of young families. The
first show in 2002 will take place May 4 and 5 and May 11
and 12. Groups can also book a visit. For information, call
Ext. 3667 or 823-2312.