GODFREY — Unwrapping an American Flyer train for Christmas more than 60 years ago fueled Al Bell into creating a model city to accompany his model trains.
Now, his hobby covers most of the basement.
“Some guys are into hunting; some are into golf. I’m into model trains,” Bell said. “That’s just my thing; that’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
For the last six years, Bell has created a miniature town for the trains he has accumulated to run through a town that’s “at least” 150 feet around. Creating the city, which is modeled after the Metro East, has become a hobby only recently because of all the cost and effort needed to put into it.
“This is a pretty expensive hobby, raising a family, paying off a mortgage. So, I semi-retired about six years ago and started building on it then,” Bell said. “I’ve got about $15,000 just in trains there, not counting the lumber.”
And if you do, it’s another $3,400.
“It’s something for my son to pass on to his son, and it’s something that I wanted to do,” Bell said. “I go down there in the evening, turn on some music, take my dog with me, put on a pot of coffee and forget the world. It’s a stress reliever, if nothing else.”
The model town is somewhat of a collage of the entire Metro East, as Bell has spent nearly his whole life in the area. He has included the giant ketchup bottle in Collinsville, the Conagra Foods mill in Alton and the Bel-Air drive-in in Mitchell, among other local landmarks. The only reason that the Argosy Casino Alton and the city’s Robert Wadlow statue are not included is that Bell has been unable to find miniature replicas of them.
“There’s no place I could put the (Mississippi) river. I thought about that, but I couldn’t do it,” Bell said.
Four trains wind their way around and through an amusement park, a mountain scene complete with waterfalls, a downtown area and, recently, a farmers’ market. The landscape is complete with lighting, from LEDs on the store windows to overhead black lights to create a nighttime setting. Bell even put Christmas lights — alternating red and orange — behind the mountains to create a sunset setting.
“I have more wiring under the table than I’ve got in my entire house,” Bell said.
The whole setting is in the basement of Bell’s house, one he shares with his wife, Carol. They built the house six years ago, and Bell said the basement was designated to house the set. But he never thought it would grow as large as it has.
“I told my wife if I make it any bigger, I’ve got to take the furnace and the air conditioner out of the basement,” Bell said. “She’s opposed to that.”
The trains and community take up three-fourths of his basement.
While some of the items for the town have been purchased, most are handmade creations by Bell. Materials range from cardboard and wood to Q-tips and stones.
“I cut the gallon fruit cans in half and make it look like Quonset huts,” Bell said. “I do try to make as much as I can. The mountains, I made that myself, the flour mill and the towns, the Market Basket, the refinery.”
For all the work and precision Bell has put into the product, more than anything, he enjoys showing it off and watching the joy others get from it — especially his grandchildren, who are over often.
“Just sitting back and watching the eyes of little — and big — kids,” Bell said. “And working on it, of course, but I’m proud of it, and I want to show it off.”
This story covered by The Telegraph is typical of a person finding their passion and committing to it.
Model railroading has provided many people the perfect opportunity to escape and create their own world.
Model railroading has also been responsible for many people learning skills that they wouldn’t have ordinarily have learned. It’s probably intimidating at first, but after a few attempts people usually find out that they are actually much more skillful than first thought.
Enjoy this great model railroading story and please comment below…