LACONIA — Model trains have been a life-long fascination for many of those attending a regional convention of of the National Model Railroad Association which is being held at the Margate Resort this weekend.
Some 300 people are on hand for the weekend event, which is hosted by the Seacoast Division of The Northeastern Region of the National Model Railroad Association.
''It took us two years to put together this convention,'' said Erich Whitney of Derry, convention chairman, who said that coordinating all of programs and exhibits and arrangements for visiting local railroad related attractions takes a lot of time.
''We're really excited to hold a convention in an area which has such a great railroad history,'', said Whitney.
He said that many of those attending were making visits to the Lakeport freight station and the historic Laconia Railroad Station, as well as stations in Ashland, Plymouth and Meredith and taking rail excursions offered by the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad, the Hobo Railroad and even as far away as Conway to ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad.
While there were any clinics and presentations taking place at the Margate, the major focus of activity were the on-site operating sessions at which modular model railroad systems were set up and operated on several large oval track configurations.
One of the most impressive modulars was an eight-foot long, 250-pound mountain scene set up by John Flanders of Clinton, Mass., president of the Ashburnham Modular Railroad Club, which has about 200 members.
The modular features some 250 snow-covered trees, tunnels, a winding road where a snow plow is being operated and a wrecker has arrived to help a motorist who has skidded off the road. There's also wildlife, skiers and even an abominable snowman lurking on the mountain side.
''It took two years to build,'' says Flanders, who unveiled his creation last year at a convention in Springfield, Mass.
Flanders, who grew up next to the railroad tracks in Clinton, said that model railroads have been his life-long passion and that he has about $40,000 worth of trains and over 80-feet of modular layouts which he's built over the years.
A union carpenter who works out of Worcester, Mass., Flanders says that he enjoys the conventions as a way to stay in touch with those who share his enthusiasm.
Whitney said that he got into model railroading about four years ago thanks to the enthusiasm his children, Brenna, 15, and Colin, 12, developed for model trains.
''Our kids got involved in trains and we spend a lot of time with them going to train shows and to train sites all over New England and New York to ride on local railroads,'' said Whitney.
An engineer at a government research center in Bedford, Mass, Whitney says that he enjoys working on model railroad projects with his children.
''It brings out your creative side. You get to use both sides of your brain,'' said Whitney, who said that his daughter has an amazing ability to conceptualize layouts and create them and was enjoying the convention.
''There's a generation gap in model railroading. Most of the people here are long-time modelers but we'd like to see the hobby came back and young people are the key,'' said Whitney.