Expansive recreation of 1950s community and its railroad a labour of love for more than four decades
As Chuck Bard looked over the St. Jacobs & Aberfoyle Model Railway at its new home at 1440-3 King St. N., the memories of its decades-long construction came flowing back.
“It was month after month after month,” said Bard. “I got a job in Windsor at a hospital [as a construction engineer], so I was down there four days a week. I’d drive down Monday morning, drive home Thursday night, and Gwen and I would go out to work on the railway in Aberfoyle Friday, Saturday, Sunday, usually about twelve, and then Monday morning drive back to Windsor.”
His wife, Gwen Bard, laughed. “I joined him because I’d never see him again!”
Chuck and Gwen Bard were part of the original six-member team that built the enormous model railway in Aberfoyle beginning in 1972. “The Aberfoyle Junction,” which depicts an idealized southwest Ontario town in 1957, was the brainchild of Frank Dubery, a model train enthusiast who founded the attraction at the Aberfoyle Antique Market.
In 1982, it was disassembled and moved down the street to a quonset hut, which offered Bard and his crew three times as much space to operate. Through the ‘80s, the six main builders (Frank and his wife Gay Dubery, Chuck and Gwen Bard, Craig Webb, and Wayne Pfeiffer) continued to add to the structure, and the sprawling townscape spanned the entire length of the room.
“I was an electrician all my life,” said Chuck Bard. “You’d go into a hospital and take a lot of stuff out because you’re adding another wing. Well, all that junk that was left over, instead of taking it to the dump, I brought it here, and used the relays out of fire alarm systems and things like that. We hardly bought anything.”
Key to the attraction’s appeal is its vivid recreation of a long-gone southwestern Ontario. “The year we’re trying to go for is ’57,” said Mike Craig, Frank Dubery’s grandson (Dubery died in 2005).
“It’s right about that time when steam engines were being phased out and first-generation diesels were taking over. On our layout you’ll see early-generation diesels and late steam engines. You get the best of both worlds.”
The Aberfoyle Junction was open several weekends each year as a tourist attraction until 2012, when the group’s lease expired and the landowner decided to develop the land.
“We searched for a lot of ideas and had no luck,” said Craig. “For a while it looked like this display was going to the garbage, which was a tragedy.”
Good luck prevailed when the group came into contact with Mercedes Corp., which offered a new space in St. Jacobs that turned out to be a perfect fit. This display was cut into 54 sections and transported to St. Jacobs, where it had its grand opening on October 18.
“We’ve pulled through 40,000 feet of wiring just to get it operational again,” said Craig.
“For me, it’s kind of my grandfather’s legacy,” he continued. “It’s something that I grew up with and has been part of my life. With the skill and time that’s gone into this display, it would be such a tragedy for people not to enjoy it like it has been over the years.”
So how, exactly, does one become a voracious model train enthusiast?
“I think it’s something that somebody is born with,” Craig laughed. “I mean, I don’t have the skill for this hobby. I’ve tried before and I’ve failed miserably. But I think it’s something that someone’s born with, or something happens early on in their life, and it gives them a bug for the rest of their life.”
He added, “It shows you the amount of skill and talent that’s within the region. All the people who put this together over the years are within an hour’s distance of Waterloo Region, so it just showcases what people can do when they put their mind to it. This is 40 years in the making.”
The St. Jacobs & Aberfoyle Model Railway opens October 18 at 11 a.m. It is open October 19-20, 26-27, and November 2-3, 16-17, 30, and December 1, 7-8, 14-15, 28-29 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $5 for children, $8 for adults, and $7 for seniors. More information can be found at www.stjacobsmodelrailway.com.