From the outside, the squat warehouse building housing the Suncoast Center for Fine Scale Modeling is no showstopper.
Step inside, though, and it’s an entirely different story.
The center is a showcase of the kind of artistry that can be achieved in the world of model making. It has several exhibits, but the centerpiece of the collection is called the Sundance Central, a fine scale modular railroad.
The display was created by a group of model-makers who are obsessive in their attention to detail. They’ve spent thousands of hours over several years working to create a railroad environment that looks and sounds like it’s from a period between the 1890s and 1920s.
Smoke billows from a locomotive as it chugs along a hand-laid track. The sounds of trains, speeding up and slowing down with the calls of birds in the background, provide an added air of authenticity.
Tiny people populate the display. Some wait at a train station. Others work at a gas station. Some labor in the rail yards. There’s a multitude of scenes along the route, including a lumberyard, a salvage shop and a train maintenance facility.
Trains make their way through a terrain that’s been painstakingly landscaped with handmade grass and trees. The locomotives run across elevated tracks, with a sculpted waterfall and images of majestic mountains arranged to serve as a backdrop.
Besides the Sundance Central, the center has Civil War military models, a tribute to the Band of Brothers, a fighter pilot in a F-15 Eagle cockpit and other displays. For train lovers, there are two other model railroad displays that were created and donated by groups from Australia. And, there’s the Silverton Central, a layout created by Jon Addison, a modeler in the center’s group.
“There’s so many things in here for you to see,” said Dale MacKeown, another member on the Sundance team. “People who come in here typically spend two, two-and-a-half hours. We have people who come in here every time.”
One guy, around 95, came with six members of his family, and they spent the whole day there, MacKeown said.
Because of its modular nature, the Sundance Central can be taken apart and transported to train shows and conferences elsewhere. It is so large, disassembling it is a gargantuan task, and it requires a semitrailer to move it.
The display is not widely known to the general public, but is popular among train enthusiasts and modelers, MacKeown said.
“It’s been to all four corners of the United States in the last 10 years,” he said. “People from all over the world hear about us.”
In September, it will be the centerpiece of the National Narrow Gauge Convention in Kansas City, Mo.
The Sundance Central got its start about 15 years ago when some group members became acquainted with each other through the Florida Garden Railway Society, MacKeown said. They decided it would be neat to build a modular train layout they could carry in the trunks of their cars to train shows.
They moved into the center’s current home, at 2645 Success Drive in Odessa, three years ago.
The modelers are sticklers for detail. They use foam rubber to create fake rock face. They use rope fiber to make artificial grass. They use wax to make imitation cow pies.
Some people wonder why the men are so involved in creating the models, said Jim Hopes, another member of the Sundance team.
“It’s because we love doing it. Once you start to create something that looks pretty good, you can’t stop,” he said.
“Everybody loves trains at some point in their life. Some people, like us, never get over it,” said Hopes, who built his first model train when he was 10 or 11.
“My father got me my first Lionel (train) when I was 5,” MacKeown said.
That was nearly 70 years ago.
In his Silverton Central railroad layout, Addison has created a setting that includes a harbor, a produce market, a village and other features.
Some train enthusiasts simply want to operate them and are not too particular about the setting behind them, Addison said.
“We care about making things look real. We kind of look at it as an art,” Addison said.
WHAT: The Suncoast Center for Fine Scale Modeling
WHY: An impressive collection of artistically crafted models, which recreate the feel for an authentic railroad, along with other models depicting Civil War scenes, fighter pilots, and the Band of Brothers.
WHERE: 2645 Success Drive, Odessa
WHEN: The third Saturday of the month, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., from October to June
COST: Admission is $7 for adults, and free for children 12 and younger
INFO: Visit: www.finescalemodeling.org
Published April 9, 2014
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.