The Pacific Southern Model Railroad Show Returns to Rocky Hill
By Lea Florentine | Posted October 2, 2023
The Pacific Southern (PS) Model Railroad Show in Rocky Hill will once again be open to the public on October 14 and 15.
The display, which is the size of a basketball court, is a labor of love for the PS members who have hand laid its 10 miles of HO-gauge track, built most of the scenery and many of the buildings, and even written software to help with operations during the club’s six decades.
The HO model railroad display in Rocky Hill.
The abbreviation “HO” stands for “half-O.” The smaller trains were less expensive and took up less space than their larger O-scale cousins, which became popular with people who were moving into small homes and apartments in the 1940s
Member Jim Agallaco says, “There’s a lot of creativity. People who visit the show are amazed by the artistry.”
One example of this is the saw mill that Rocky Hill resident Carl Pate built. He visited saw mills and factories in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine to come up with its design. Its frame, with timbers the size of matchsticks, was constructed from one six-foot by five-inch by three-inch piece of basswood.
Pate used a miniature table saw to cut the width of each board. He says, “Half of the wood was lost in the sawdust during the first cut to create the thickness of miniature lumber board needed to build the building.”
The HO model railroad display in Rocky Hill.
The artistry applies to most of the trains as well. Agallaco states, “Some trains are purchased, but a lot of them are scratch built, or hand made.”
Pate’s circus train took two years to build. Initially 23 cars, the train was later expanded to 35 cars. Pate’s wife Anne recalls, “He’d build things while watching television. Our children knew, ‘Don’t touch Daddy’s stuff!’” The longest train in the show is 75 cars.
The Pate Brothers Circus Tent is modeled after the Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus that Pate saw in Greenwich, Connecticut 50 years ago. Watching the tent as it was raised and later taken down allowed Pate to build his tent like the real thing. After Pate and his family collected sand from a playground in Cos Cob, Connecticut, he sifted it many times before carefully spreading it on the circus floor.
In the last few years, PS members have been constructing a large modular freight yard. It is modeled after New York City’s 28th Street railyard in the 1940’s, and includes a wharf and a container dock area. Agallaco notes, “Before there were interstate highways, this is how New York City was fed.”
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Some of the buildings are kits but others are scratch built. Agallaco explains, “The backdrops are photos that were purchased. But the mountains, bridges, and rivers were all hand built.” Some scenes in the PS display are true to life, such as the Port of Montreal and the Tunkhannock Viaduct with the mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania as a backdrop. Others combine the builder’s imagination with actual places. These include Harper’s Ferry, with a ferry boat built by PS founder, Bob Latham; Spike’s Peak; and a small town with a court house, town hall, diner, and hotel.
There is a model of the Rocky Hill train depot, circa 1915. Latham built it from a picture he received from the daughter of a man who worked at the depot. A plaque in front of it explains, “Inside the station is a waiting room, ticket window, and trainmaster office. To the right of the station is a water tower to fill passing steam engines. If you listen carefully, you may hear the water fill ups of some steam engine tenders and workers talking in the background.”
The PS members are currently constructing a train connection that runs below the existing tracks. Agallaco points out, “It’s a simple idea, but a massive amount of work. They’re working from below the display.”
Front and center: Carl Pate of Rocky Hill with members of The Pacific Southern (PS) Model Railroad club.
Recent software updates include those by member Jeff Bernardis to the dispatcher software. The code was originally written by member Geoff Green over several decades. It assists in assigning train routes and controlling their speed and setting switches and signals. It also allows members to see where the trains are via a monitor.
Agallaco says people love finding the “Easter egg” surprises in the display including zip liners, mountain climbers, art students painting inside a building, campers with their tent and campfire, and a forest fire that lights up.
The members of the PS invite the public to come and enjoy this unique 4,000 square foot display which showcases their artistic skills in combination with their electronic and software expertise.
The PS railroad train shows will be held October 14 and 15 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.
Please note that masks are required for all visitors.
Visit www.rockyhilltrains.org, or the Pacific Southern Railroad Facebook page, for more information. ■