All Aboard for the Pacific Southern Model Railroad Shows
By Lea Florentine | October 14, 2022
During the 60 years since the Pacific Southern (PS) Model Railroad Club was founded, nearly 150 members have been continually improving the railroad by building and painting detailed settings and backgrounds; hand laying all 3,500 feet of track; and writing software or installing hardware to assist with running the trains. This old school model railroad that makes use of lots of modern technology has presented shows to the public for more than 40 years, raising more than $175K for local first responders.
This year’s shows will be October 22 and 23. Not long after Bob and Ann Latham built a house at 26 Washington Street in Rocky Hill, Bob began building an O gauge model railroad in the basement. He later switched to HO gauge to get more trains into the space. Soon other model railroaders joined him in creating the Pacific Southern. The 60-by-45 foot basement was expanded in 1967 to allow for even more track space. Ten years later, the club began holding shows for the public in December. As many as 1,000 visitors came each day.
The PS held these shows for nearly four decades. After Latham died, PS member Geoff Green purchased the home and, in 1994, expanded the basement to its present size of 90 feet by 45 feet. Public shows were halted while the group focused on the new construction and renovating the original room. In addition, a Digital Command Control (DCC) power system was installed. Each engineer has a controller, which allows them to send instructions for their engine, while each engine has a computer chip which can receive these instructions.
Green also spent decades developing a software program, Dispatcher, which helps with determining train routes and switch and signal settings, and also displays the location of trains on a monitor. Part of this program, Automatic Train Control, has been used for the past five years to control the speed of the trains. PS Member Carl Pate of Rocky Hill explains, “The program allows a computer to run multiple trains from start to finish, sort of like cruise control, while other trains can be run by engineers at the same time.” Member Jeff Bernardis recently developed the Train Tracker system, which assists the trainmaster in assigning trains to engineers, and also tracks the trains’ movement, location, and speed. Pate’s mother introduced him to model building when he was on crutches for several years while growing up. He has been part of the PS since he graduated from college.
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On the shows’ 25th anniversary, he made a one hour video of the railroad. He and his wife Anne moved from their longtime home in Connecticut to 26 Washington Street six years ago. Building the Pate Brothers Circus for the PS was a labor of love for Pate. The big top took six years to complete; its canvas top required six hours of sewing. The lion cage in the center ring has over 1000 solder joints. Each of the 400 tiny chairs were built from six pieces, and both these and the 375 people watching the show were all hand painted. Originally 20 cars, the circus train has doubled in length since its debut during the 1970 shows. Regarding the PS shows, Pate notes, “It takes up to 15 members to run the 40-minute train show schedule.”
Positions include the dispatcher, who determines routes for the main train lines; the engineers, who control the other trains; a show conductor, who is in charge of the show and the audio script; a trainmaster, who assigns engineers to engines and sets the train schedule; four tower operators to control trains in local yards; and brakemen who handle any problems that come up while running the trains.
In the last two years, PS members developed remote digital connections so the dispatcher can route the main train lines and the engineers can control their trains without either being on site. Pate explains, “The operation of the railroad was converted to a hybrid method that allows any combination of in-person and remote operators with flexible control of the track towers. A Zoom call is used for communication between engineers, tower operators and the dispatcher.” With Internet connections, the railroad operation can be run from on-site and offsite.
Other recent innovations include installation of a remote computer. Its three monitors show the dispatcher and the trainmaster the position and movement of all of the trains. The dispatcher and trainmaster can also monitor the status of trains anywhere on the railroad via 16 video cameras that were recently installed. Two years ago, members started construction of a large modular freight yard. Pate points out, “This new track is larger than the size of most model railroads.” The PS now has roughly ten scaled miles of track. Pate states, “We continually try to help members and non-members with their model railroad construction dreams.”
The members of the PS meet each Wednesday night from 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm.
The PS railroad train shows will be held October 22 and 23 at 10 am, 11 am, noon, 2 pm, 3 pm, and 4 pm at 26 Washington Street in Rocky Hill. Admission is $10 per person (age 5 and under are free), paid via cash, credit card, or personal check, at the door. Parking is on the street, so arrive early.
Each 45 minute show is limited to 50 guests.
All donations support Rocky Hill Rescue Squad and Volunteer Fire Company.