When I was a child in the 1950s, (I know… ancient history), Christmas meant freshly cut trees and fresh evergreen wreaths, aluminum foil tinsel, an angel for the top of the tree and of course, it meant setting up the model train set. At the time, there were only two major manufacturers – Lionel and American Flyer – and allegiance to one or the other of those companies was like being a Chevy family or a Ford family. One never crossed the line.
The fact is model railroads take me back to an innocent time when the only stress in life was associated with grade-school tests or homework. For me, model railroads and Christmas go hand-in-hand. And a model railroad, wherever and whenever I see one, evokes the spirit of the holidays and brings back memories of a child’s eye view of Christmas.
Earlier this month, I got that rush of emotion at the Brewster Elks Club when I walked into the lodge’s 2nd Annual Train Show. The south dining room at the lodge was cleared of everything except several train layouts. The simplest of these was a plywood board with rail-beds, roadbeds, lawns, landscaping and pavement cleverly drawn with crayon. On this board were placed track, train and a few buildings with a remarkable result. For a simple and inexpensive effort, the layout was surprisingly appealing. It was a great display.
The most complex of the layouts was designed by Michael Chastant and his presentation was extraordinary. Michael, a twenty-year old with autism, was the young gent who put on last year’s one-man train show at the Elks Club. It was such a success that it inspired a show in the village of Brewster for Founders Day and prompted a new tradition of having a show each year at the Elks Club.
Michael’s layout was unusual because it combined two of his collections. The H.O. scale train setup was one of these and his collection of scale model animals was the other. Michael created a presentation of model trains with a model zoo as a component of the display. It was most unusual and attracted a good deal of attention.
The front room at the Elks was set aside for the vendors who were selling train sets, engines, freight and passenger cars and landscaping. There were tables with new and used books and others with color slides of engines and stations. They had a great variety of buildings to make the layouts look like towns or villages: churches, gas stations, firehouses and a great variety of homes spanning decades of style changes.
All in all, it was a great event and a great reminder of Christmas days past.
Village of Brewster Historian
Putnam County Historian