Fitting a 351-mile train track in a hotel ballroom: “This is not Thomas the Train stuff!”

At first glance, it looks like a bunch of adults playing with toy trains, which in some ways it is.

But upon closer inspection, it’s really a work of art – the miniature model railroad replicating all 351 miles of the Florida East Coast Railways track from Hialeah to Jacksonville.

With his optivision goggles, Gregg Stoll looms large over the tiny FEC locomotive

With his optivision goggles, Gregg Stoll looms large over the tiny FEC locomotive

The model – at 1/160th scale – wraps around the Salon 3 ballroom at the Embassy Suites hotel on Belvedere Road, where train hobbyists are gathered this weekend for the Florida East Coast Railway Society’s Fall convention.

The model railroad will be open for the public to see Sunday at an open house from 9 a.m. to noon.

“This is not Thomas the Train stuff,’’ says a laughing Gregg Stoll, one of more than 20 hobbyists who worked from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday to put together the model railroad together.

End to end, it stretches 183 feet long. But it was modified Thursday with curves and curls to fit inside the ballroom. It’s made up of more than 50 pieces, with the smallest about 3 feet long.

The pieces are owned and made by eight different model owners around Florida who take their sections home after the convention and store them in garages, dens and attics until the next convention.

It’s all powered electronically via computer. It might take a model locomotive about 10 minutes to travel the mini track – light years compared to the 9 ½ hours it takes a real locomotive to travel from Hialeah to Jacksonville.
HAND ON TRAIN
The Jupiter section has a drawbridge that goes up and down. A section at the Daytona Beach Golf Club has tiny golfers and a little alligator lounging by a water hazard.

“Good old Gomez Addams in his basement with his trains going kaboom? We can do that!” Stoll said with a laugh, recalling a famous scene from a 1964 episode of The Addams Family.

But there’s no damaging this train set, which one hobbyist guessed might have cost a collective $30,000 to make.

ARCENAUX

Bob Arceneaux takes pliers to the railroad tracks at the FEC’s southern terminus known as “the Hialeah balloon”.

Headless Tommy Chaffee checks electronic connections beneath the tracks

Headless Tommy Chaffee checks electronic connections beneath the tracks

The track finally complete, Bob Arceneaux and Byron Hartunian watch the maiden voyage of FEC locomotive on Thursday.

The track finally complete, Bob Arceneaux and Byron Hartunian watch the maiden voyage of FEC locomotive on Thursday.

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