BY SARAH WHITAKER
Special to the VOICE
Regular visitors to Fenwick’s model railroad layout would likely say the miniature trains, tiny people and painstakingly built landscapes are all very real looking. They’d be right, because down to the finest detail, members of the Greater Niagara Model Railroad Engineers have put in hours of work, ensuring the world of the Fenwick Central has a look of realism.
Despite their efforts, some might say the miniature world inside 1144 Maple Street in Fenwick was always missing a little something to make the layout truly real. That something is no longer missing, as visitors to this fall’s open house discovered, as they not only saw the trains run over the past two weekends, they heard them as well. Club president, James Whitaker, explained that the membership, under the leadership of member Stephen Hegedus, transformed the entire layout over the past several months to a Digitrax Digital Command Control (DCC) system.
Work started to transform the layout right after the spring open house in early May, said Whitaker, explaining the club chose to make the transformation to a more modern control system that would allow them to run more trains and offers more flexibility. Under the former analog system the club was limited to running four main-line trains at one time, explained Whitaker, noting the new system allows the club to run as many trains as they have handheld controllers for.
They also were also restricted to the fixed electrical “blocks” that were controlled by a dispatcher, which restricted their movement as they travelled around the layout. The new system controls the trains independently, using high frequency digital command signals through the rails, received by decoders installed in each locomotive.The DCC system also introduces real sounds to the layout, as the steam engine chuffs through the yard or diesel CP engines blow their horn at grade crossings.
“It adds an extra sense of realism,” said Whitaker. “It was rewarding watching people react to the sounds and noise.”
“It makes driving the trains a lot more fun, and a lot more realistic,” said Matthew Whitaker, who at 11 is the club’s youngest member. As an “associate member,” because of his age, Matthew is happy with the new DCC system because it means more members of the club can run trains at the same time, giving him more opportunities to drive trains.
Visitors to the club’s annual fall open house weekends were happy with the layout, crowding the narrow aisles of the building to get a look, and listen, of Fenwick Central’s trains hard at work. “Awesome,” is how Austin Otten of Pelham described the layout.
“I love it,” said John Morey, who was visiting the rail club for the first time since moving to Fonthill a little over a year ago, adding his favourite part of the layout is the yard—where multiple tracks come together, and row after row of trains are staged ready to complete another run.
Lukas Tomlinson, visiting from Niagara Falls with his grandmother for the first time, simply gave the layout a thumbs up, reluctant to take his eyes off the action.
Anyone who missed this year’s open houses has one more chance to see the trains work when the club opens during the Pelham Santa Claus Parade on Saturday, Dec. 8.