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The past arrives on a small scale Train buffs track the details to deliver a seasonal treat at Historical Society

The train chugged down the track past one landmark after another in an imaginary landscape -- the Erie Canal, the Wilcox Mansion, a stockyard filled with cattle headed for slaughter.

This is what Western New York in the early 20th century looked like, as depicted on a miniature scale by the model train buffs in Rail Barons.

The group's annual layout opened Friday at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, where it has been a holiday staple since 1990.

It's a kid's dream come true. But anyone who loves trains, model-building, history or just a satisfyingly off-beat exhibit should be pleased, too.

"I'm not sure what the attraction of trains is, but people like them. They move. They're large. Maybe it's because they're understandable," said Gregory Stein, a member of the Rail Barons who helped prepare the layout.

In their attempt to recreate buildings and landmarks from the region's past, the Rail Barons' volunteer work never ends.

This year, they added the stockyards, a reminder that Buffalo was once a major meat-packing center.

For the hobbyists, the layout is HO scale, where 1 inch in the exhibit equals 87 inches in real life.

There are more than 100 buildings, 400 miniature people and animals, 300 feet of track, 400 trees, and 150 pounds of plaster supporting the pint-sized fantasy world.

Such layouts require carpentry, electronics, painting, model-building, engineering and historical research -- all of which contributes to the passion of the hobbyists.

Many of the details represent hundreds of hours of work.

"The more you get into it, the more expertise you need," said Stein.

The model of the lock in Lockport, for instance, is correct down to the number of steps on the stairway.

The model of the carousel was adapted to look like those made famous by the Allan Herschell Co. in North Tonawanda.

Around it, a lifelike scene unfolds of a child flying a kite, a worker selling balloons, several men sneaking a drink from a jug, and their wives nearby waiting for their return.

Visitors also will see the Eagle House Restaurant in Williamsville, a former stopping point for travelers to Buffalo and a station on the Underground Railroad; the first building of Buffalo Forge Co., which manufactured portable blacksmith forges; and an old A&P store that stood on South Park Avenue.

"I grew up around railroads. It was part of your existence," said Graham Millar, a member of the Rail Barons.

"You watch the kids who see the layout, kids who may never ride a train in their lives, and they are fascinated," said Millar.

The train exhibit is open every Saturday and Sunday through the end of February at the museum's 25 Nottingham Court location.

The trains will also run Dec. 26, 27 and 28.

e-mail: hdavis@buffnews.com

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