Evicted Bay Ridge model railroad club finds a new home

It looked like the end of the line for Bay Ridge’s beloved Model Railroad Club but the trains will keep on rollin’, albeit in their new home in Kingston, New York.

And it’s all thanks to Bensonhurst native Mark Wolodarsky who heard about the club being evicted from 28 Marine Ave. and decided to do something about it.

Wolodarsky, who serves on the board of trustees at the Trolley Museum of New York, knew he had found the perfect home for the train layout when he read about the Model Railroad Club’s eviction in the Home Reporter. He had been a member of the club in the early 2000s but had to resign because of work obligations and “life getting in the way.”

“The plan is to move it and run it at the museum, but it’s a very slow process because it was never meant to be taken apart,” Wolodarsky explained. “There’s over 100,000 miles of wiring under the layout and that’s what’s taking a long time. And then we have to figure out how to cut it and fit it out the door. There are a lot of challenges involved and the goal is to have it moved up to Kingston and have it reassembled as close to the original as possible.”

Bay Ridge’s model railroad train club has entertained children and adults of all ages for over half a century.

The club originally organized in 1946 as the merger of two former model railroad clubs — the Brooklyn Model Railroad, founded in 1932 and the Shore Haven Central, founded in 1936.

Its sprawling masterpiece is a virtual replica of towns and villages mirroring those along actual train lines that ran across the country, open to view for a nominal fee between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Model train layout marked with wire to be cut and sectioned off for transport to the Trolley Museum of New York.

The club — which has been coping, over the past few years, with an aging membership and dwindling volunteers — got its eviction notice on Feb. 15.

The letter cited the need for landlords “to access tenants space to make certain repairs to the heat system for the property” as the reason for its ousting.

The present club was incorporated in 1955 as a non-profit organization that presented annual shows that demonstrated (in miniature form) how real railroad lines operated.

The trains first ran in the 30-by-60-foot space on Marine Avenue in 1949. The layout included all hand-laid track and 124 custom built switches.

The trains were specially made with many belonging to the club’s late president Cono Bianco. Upon learning of the eviction, Bianco’s family took possession of the train engines and train cars belonging to Bianco.

“We still have a few cabinets here with stuff in them so that when it’s set up they will have trains to run up there,” explained Arthur Stensholt, who has been a member of the club for 10 years.

“The whole history of the layout and what makes it so historic is the signal system,” said Wolodarsky. “It uses World War II relays, and the outside third rail similar to a subway. Most layouts throughout the country abandoned that outside third rail and run one down the middle like with Lionel trains. As far as we know this is the last layout in the country that utilizes an outside third rail.”

Wolodarsky said that he stepped in because he just wanted to see it saved.

“It’s been around over 70 years and just because it’s not in a museum in Manhattan somewhere doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deserve the same fate,” he said. “They’re building a room for it in Kingston to hopefully as close as possible to what it is.”

Wolodarsky started a GoFundMe page in March that has since collected over $4,000 to help in dismantling and transporting the layout to the museum. In addition, the Trolley Museum recently received a $5,000 donation from the National Train Collector’s Association to aid in the move.

The pieces and the wires have been marked and sectioned so that they can be cut, moved and put back together as soon as possible. The goal is to raise enough funds to complete the project. Donations of trains are also welcome.

Stensholt — who has family not far from the museum — considers it a happy ending.

“Anytime I go to visit my brother-in-law in upstate New York I can always make a quick stop in Kingston and see how things are going and maybe even put in a little time to help out,” he said.

“It’s the best of all possible ways this could have happened. I’m as happy as can be because it has a life ahead of itself and it’s not going to die,” added Stensholt.

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