Model railroad buffs are working hard, playing hard, and enjoying every minute they spend at the "Railroad Depot" on the Masonic Homes campus.
The "new, old-fashioned railroad station" of the Masonic Homes and Elizabethtown Railroad (MH&ERR) has grown quite a lot since it opened in the summer of 1998. A collection of passenger trains and freight trains chug along and trolleys zip around the landscaped platforms that fill three rooms of the depot.
Through vision, hard work, and donations, the residents at the Masonic Homes have engineered and continue to re-engineer the museum and model railroad into an enthralling diorama that transports not just the railroad fans, but all visitors, on visual, fantasy tours across the Pennsylvania landscape. Platforms and all of the scenery are created and painted by hand by the members of the Masonic Homes Model Railroad Club. Likewise, all of the controls are assembled, wiring installed, and track laid and serviced by the members.
The first of the displays a visitor to the depot encounters is an HO-gauge layout that was recently shifted to the opposite side of its room to give visitors a better view of the scenery. There's a lot to enjoy, but it takes a discerning eye to appreciate many of the intricate, often subtle, features of that diorama. For instance, look closely and see a hobo camp with a flickering campfire, find mountain climbers or a bike-rider, even swimming ducks.
The big display in the main area is the O-gauge layout where five trains are usually running at the same time, including a nostalgic steam engine with its Pullman, baggage car, and observation coach. Interspersed among the O-gauge train layout is the trolley line, which has been expanded recently. They are realistic miniatures of the trolleys used in the early 1900's, before automobiles became popular and affordable. The trolley car actually receives its operating power through its conductive trolley wheel and pole from the energized overhead wire.
The several towns that the trains and trolleys traverse are varied, with life-like figures and landmarks suggestive of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Elizabethtown, and Harrisburg, as well as the beautiful rural and mountainous reaches of Pennsylvania. The towns are typical of anywhere with familiar businesses and landmarks, such as a gas station, a variety of houses and car styles, a quarry, a river with a cantilever bridge, a power plant and power lines, tunnels, billboards, a hardware store, municipal building, and more. To make it even more realistic, there is a familiar road repair project, a bridge under repair on the turnpike, a traffic accident, a farmers' co-op, a coal mine, and cable cars. Now, a replica of Elizabethtown itself is taking form, to be complete with replicas of local businesses, the Grand Lodge Hall, and the formal gardens.
In crafting the scenery, the members who helped to build the displays added their personal touches by putting their names on commercial establishments such as an industrial park, realty company, lumber yard, saw mill and electrical contracting company.
The attention to details makes the displays unique. Club President Elwood Schmidt said, "By the time we're finished, there will not be any pre-manufactured structures on the platform. We will have built them all ourselves."
The newest addition to the displays is an N-gauge layout on a 48-square-foot platform set up in a third room of the Depot. It came to the club in September as a donation by John Jaeger, P.M., Harry A. Houseman Lodge No. 717, Somerton.
The Model Railroad Club is appreciative of the many valuable donations that have been received. However, due to the limited quarters, at this time the Club favors cash donations to assist in financing the ongoing work. Checks may be made payable to "Masonic Homes." but they must be designated for the "Model RR Club," and sent to: Masonic Homes, c/o Model RR Depot, One Masonic Drive, Elizabethtown, PA 17022.
The spotlight was on the meeting place of the Club when the Railroad Depot at the Masonic Homes was a satellite postal station for a day on Aug. 26, when the U.S. Postal Service issued five new train commemorative postage stamps. That day, the special stamps could be purchased there and canceled with the club's own unique cancellation stamp, which features an image of a train, the club's name, and the date of cancellation.
The Masonic Homes Model Railroad Club meets in the RR Depot clubhouse at 7 o'clock p.m. on the first Tuesday each month. Membership is open to everyone, not just Masons or Masonic Homes residents, and married couples may belong on one membership and share one vote. Visitors from the community area are welcome to attend the Club's open house the first Saturday of each month from 2 to 4 p.m. Children's groups and club groups are welcome to make appointments for special tours.
To acquire an application for membership to the Masonic Homes and Elizabethtown Model Railroad, or to obtain more information about the club, please contact either: Elwood L. Schmidt, President, Masonic Homes Model RR Club, 2318 James Buchanan Dr., Elizabethtown, PA 17022-3101, Phone 717-361-0861; or, Walter Weider, Vice President, Masonic Homes Model RR Club, 3320 James Buchanan Dr., Elizabethtown, PA 17022-3101, phone 717-367-5328.