Thursday, July 30, 2015

Model Town Reflects Childhood

WELLSVILLE: Sometimes people can’t wait to retire. Their bucket list gets out of control. Sometimes people amble around for a while, looking for a focus, something to dedicate their days to and sometimes, if that retired person is married their spouse comes home with an idea that clicks them into a joint project.
                Diane Fosberg was shopping for Christmas gifts a few years ago when she saw a model train set for sale in a mall. Her husband Alan had grown up in a house near the train depot in Knoxville PA and liked trains and, since he was newly retired, he needed a hobby.
                Diane noticed that the price was reduced by 20% but she brushed the idea away since Alan hadn’t ever talked about having a model train. While she shopped, workers changed the sign so that when she passed the train again it 50% off.  Well, maybe this was worth another thought. She considered the train for its hobby-potential, scooped it up and started what turned into a decade of tinkering in her basement.
                That house that Alan grew up in was the center of play in Knoxville. Twice a day trains would come through and the kids would and could climb up into the engine to say hello and check out the view. If the train was late, the station agent would call to the next town and ask why and the answer would be, “Tell the kids we’ll be along in another half hour.”
                Bothering the station agent, seeing the trains, climbing on them and checking things out were all mainstays of life for a kid in 1950s Knoxville PA when the Wellsville – Addison – Galeton line chugged and pulled through the area.
                When the model train was presented to him, Alan proposed to recreate the entire WAG train line but that would have meant taking over the basement and even wending the tracks around the stairs, an idea not warmly embraced. Eventually the plan became to recreate Alan’s hometown so for 10 years that’s what’s been growing in the Fosberg basement.
                The Fosbergs took many photos of the town as it was when they started their plan. They also called people asking for details such as house colors in the 50s. They map the town out on a grid of roads made of tarpaper.
                They started with building kits but decided early on that kits wouldn’t do. They wanted the model to reflect the houses that all the kids rode past on their bikes. They wanted the actual shape of the old post office and bank and even the greenhouse so they used photos they took or found, sketched the houses on graph paper, made cardboard patterns, checked that they looked right and constructed the houses using materials they purchased from Judy Cornelius at the Dyke Street Depot in Wellsville.
                The 50s era fire truck was a challenge. It started out as a match box car but was cut and restructured over a period of 3 weeks to be transformed into the shiny red vehicle parked outside the model fire hall.
                In 1950, the town had 70 structures but 18 no longer stand and others have additions or are different colors. In the 50s there were 900 people but now the population is 600. The old bank became an ice cream store and the old Post Office burned. From time to time someone gives a try at running a restaurant but the gas stations and grocery stores are long gone. The town does have a bank, a Post Office and an Agway.
                The model is a day in May with the elder Mrs. Fosberg hanging wash on the line, a pile of kids’ bikes on the lawn, someone working in the greenhouse, kids running out of the school and a woman talking in the old phone booth. The baseball field is ready for the Knoxville Merchants to play against another town team and, sitting in his office/home, is the town constable waiting for anyone to call with a problem.
                In the belief that the project is finished and it’s time to move, the Fosbergs are donating the entire development to the Knoxville Library where it will be on permanent display. This will make it easier for residents and visitors to Knoxville to stroll the tiny streets and visit their own memories from the 50s.


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