All aboard! On a quiet tree-lined street in Sandusky, a microcosm of a railroader's village thrives in 2 1/2-car garage built to house the hustle and bustle of the train yard, the busy villagers who live and work there and the conductor who is master of it all.
Mike Yost, Sandusky Fire Battalion Chief and model train conductor, has built his entire garage not around the cars he stores in it, but the trains he's building there.
When he moved into his house about 15 years ago, he decided the basement or attic were not suitable homes for his hobby. Up went the new garage. Construction on the two-story garage began in September 2001.
"I built this garage with help from my family, friends, the firemen and one local contractor, who took pity on me." he said.
Lew Byington, a neighbor and contractor, saw Yost and his father struggling to build the roof and came by to help. With his expertise, the roof was finished in a night.
While the downstairs houses only a show-ready 1964 ambulance, the upstairs resembles Grand Central Station.
Before any trains pulled out of the railyard, Yost put in a lot of planning. All of the modern comforts were put into the garage -- air conditioning, heating and the electricity that runs the tracks.
A computer program was used to plan the layout of the tracks. Yost sometimes spent three to four hours a night at the computer to get everything just right. This helped him to work in scale avoiding potential train disasters.
The next step in this ongoing project was to build the platform tables that support the models. He did this in the driveway and moved them later to the second floor -- a huge accomplishment for Yost.
From the lonesome call of the train whistles to the complex track configuration, the set-up invites visitors to Stop, Look and Listen. Every inch is dedicated to trains. The curtains, handmade by Yost's mother-in-law, have names and logos of well-known trains of the past.
The art is a pictoral view of Sandusky's railways. A1937 print of Columbus Avenue with the Lakeshore Electric running down the center adds a touch of local history.
The Mercury, which was christened with Gold Star champagne made at the former M. Hommel Wine Co. on Clinton Street in Sandusky has a prominent display in both pictures and on shelves wrapping around the garage. These shelves are home to numerous models of historical trains.
Trains are part of Yost's personal history as well. Living by the New York Central train depot as a child influenced his passion. Most of his featured train cars and much of the room's decor are based on NYC.
Yost was given his first train in 1957, a gift from his father. The model that started the locomotive rolling for this hobby is still with him, surviving the 1966 and 1969 basement floods of his father's home.
Yost works in 1:48 scale or Lionel's O gauge. In this scale 1/4 inch represents one foot. Working on the trains the village requires both patience and a magnifier. The complete tiny town will eventually have representation of all four seasons into one room.
As the train travels the rails, it passes an amusement park with working rides. Yost is looking for a roller coaster to add to the mechanical swings, tilt-a-whirl, fun house and other attractions. From the rides, you can see people swimming at the base of a bridge Yost built.
Passing a New York Central passenger car turned into a retro diner, you can even smell the bacon and eggs frying. Additives in the smoke unit of the trains change the aromas.
Down the line, a drive-in theater uses a flat screen TV as the screen. Yost, a detail man extraordinaire, hand-crafted miniature speakers to make the drive-in as authentic as possible.
No village is complete without schools, train depots, car and motorcycle dealers and, of course, a firehouse. The firemen there slide down a pole and pull out of the station with their sirens blaring.
This project is ongoing and changes often.
Illusion is a skill Yost has mastered in his hobby -- the biggest illusion being that this is all fun and games. It's a lot of work.
Yost is not only the city planner and railroad engineer, but also the town's electrician.
The room's lower levels are filled with complex low voltage switchboards. The boards control many of the features and allow Yost to choose which tracks have power. This is important when using the remote control engines to prevent accidents and derailments.
Yost created a simpler version with children in mind. Running this train is as simple as moving a lever on a small transformer.
The cars go over a bridge and through a mountain tunnel, loop around a scenic countryside, and past some rail workers' campfire.
Yost said, "I built this garage and trains as a hobby for me and as entertainment for kids." He's found most adults enjoy his space with child like awe.
The next time you hear a train whistle or are late because you are stuck waiting for a train, think of what it must be like to be inside that train, to see the vistas along its rolling tracks, to smell the fuel, the countryside, the cities. Then you'll know what Yost sees daily -- right in the comfort of his own dwelling.