Sunday, June 19, 2016

Howard Zane, Working on the Railroad: A World of Model Trains

"The only rule is that there are no rules. The hobby is about limitless imagination. Every skill you would need probably to navigate life can be found in this hobby. Well, there's electronics, carpentry, tools, history.. It goes on and on and on."

For more than 30 years, Howard Zane has been working on the railroad in the basement of his home in Columbia, Maryland.

"Total of what you see here is about almost 3,000 square feet of trains. There's about 15,000 hours in the land. See, I'm a stickler. Everything has to be designed and built by me."

Everything that is in detailed miniature, from the billboards above the tunnels to the soda machines to the water towers. The retired industrial designer has expanded his basement twice to accommodate his model train set's ever-growing sprawl.

"Down here on the layout there's about 150 locomotives. Figures, there's over 6,000 figures on the way up. Automobiles, about 600 automobiles. The track is 23 scale miles. And the scale is actually 3.5 millimeters to the foot, or 1/87 actual size."

Zane got his first train set from his father when he was 3 years old. The hobby is chugged into every part of his life, including places where it wasn't exactly welcome.

"I got married the first time in 1962. Driving down to Fort Walton Beach, stop at a convenience store on the outskirts of town, and there I bought this magazine called Railroad Model Craftsman. Spent the whole honeymoon, locked myself in the restroom and just read this thing cover to cover. My wife wasn't too happy haha.."

The marriage didn't last, but Zane discovered a lifelong passion.

"Seeing it run is very enjoyable. It's moving art, which I like, but I love building it and creating it. This is my life. I love it."

But sadly for Zane, few of the young people he meets seem to share his enthusiasm. Model railroading isn't exactly catching on with kids these days.

"I got seven grandkids that think their grandpop's a nut. The grandkids are into their iPods or whatever pods or whatever you call those things. They come and visit and they're like this (bussy wiht their "smart" devices), all night long."

Then again, says Zane, who spends about 40 hours a week fussing over things like miniature maple trees and tiny electric lights, most people just don't get it.

"I have several visitors. Whe have open houses and some of the comments I could write a whole book on. Some of the people ask me if I set up every Christmas or when do I take it down. Everybody equates model railroading with the proverbial loop around the Christmas tree, and it's not that at all. It's a year-round hobby."

A hobby, Zane says that never grows old.

"The thrill of accomplishment is overwhelming. I can't explain how wonderful it is. See, I'm totally stuck in the mid-20th century. I can't get out of it. I try to apply for admission to the 21st century, but they won't let me in. And that's fine, this is my time capsule.