Historic model train display open during Festival on-the-Green in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — As an infant, Roy Sokolowski could hear the train whistles of the Long Island Railroad from his parents’ apartment. From the age of three, he shared a small Lionel Train Set with his grandfather. As he got older, Sokolowski and his family would often take vacations by car to Pennsylvania — the Poconos, Lancaster. On occasion, they would squeeze in a train-related destination like the stop at the East Broad Top Railroad in Orbisonia, Pa.
“The seed was planted,” Sokolowski said of his interest in all-things railroad.
Sokolowski, an investment manager and former resident of North Ferrisburgh, spent 18 years building an historically accurate, to scale, and meticulously detailed replica of the 1928 East Broad Top Railroad (EBT). He donated it to the Henry Sheldon Museum in Middlebury upon his recent move to South Carolina.
Fully assembled, the layout miniature railroad fills a 23-foot-by-43-foot space. A section of that layout is on display this week, during Middlebury’s Festival on-the-Green, in the space the Town Hall Theater acquired from The Diner.
“This will be a fun, positive event for the community,” said Danielle Rougeau, the president of the Henry Sheldon Museum’s Board of Trustees.
To see the train, along with some historic railroad photographs from the Henry Sheldon Museum’s collection, go to the former Diner space:
•  Monday, July 9-Friday, July 13, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
•  Saturday, July 14, 1-4 p.m.
All of the structures on the model are custom-built from materials such as brass, molded plastic, wood and styrene. The four engines, 60 hopper cars, nine boxcars, and several other cars are all hand-painted and weathered, and then digitally outfitted with sound capabilities.
“Whatever skills I’ve used on the layout are self-taught and honed by years of trial and error. I built everything on the layout,” Sokolowski said.
The rail switches are manually operated, and the train’s engines, lighting and sound effects are all remote controlled. Lights even shine in the small houses — made to replicate immigrant and worker housing — that border the tracks.
“I’ve always been fascinated by what I call industrial archaeology — why certain areas and towns develop the way they did; what economic forces drove industries to certain places,” Sokolowski said.
The production of iron and mining of coal in Pennsylvania prompted the construction of the real EBT railroad on 33 miles of main line tracks to bring these resources to larger markets in the 1870s.
“The history of the EBT railroad is a microcosm of early industrial America,” Sokolowski said, mentioning the rise and fall of the railroad, plus the various immigrant communities that were drawn to the area to work for the mines.
“It’s a physical capture of a moment in time,” Rougeau said of the layout. “It shouldn’t be scavenged, but should be saved.”
Luckily, Sokolowski’s impressive model has found a new home. Sokolowski, who is friends with a Henry Sheldon Museum board member, decided to donate the large structure to the museum to preserve versus throwing it away.
In the meantime, it is being stored in a climate-controlled space. A team of volunteers re-assembled it in the Merchants Row space for this week’s showing.
“I hope that youngsters will be awed and inspired by the trains the way I was and perhaps pursue a rewarding lifetime hobby,” Sokolowski said. “I hope that everyone enjoys the trains and perhaps takes away a little insight into America’s industrial past.”
If you are interested in volunteering to help this exhibit remain open to the public during the allotted days in July, please contact Danielle Rougeau at redwater.vt@gmail.com.

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