“Our goal is to entertain the community,” Harry Black says. “We like to see people visit, interact with the trains and leave happy.”
When Harry and Mary Alice Black were preparing to move to Garden Spot Village in 2003, Harry realized that the train layout he had started in his retirement needed a new home as well. He connected with Colleen Musselman, director of life enrichment, to see if Garden Spot Village would want a train layout donation.
At the time, a group of three residents had a small test track. They welcomed the donation. So Harry cut it into pieces, Garden Spot found a space for it and campus services picked it up and delivered it. When Harry officially moved into Garden Spot in October 2003, he organized the informal group. All members became vice presidents, with equal say and input into future growth.They began to rework the layout to fit into the available space.
Before Harry’s layout moved to Garden Spot, the only people who had seen it were Mary Alice and an occasional friend who stopped by. In December 2004, all of that changed when the group opened its doors and invited the public to visit.
“When we open the door today, thousands of people come in to see the layout. Since we started keeping Open House visitor attendance in 2005, the total number of people who have visited, through December 2018, is 41,266,” says Harry.
Fifteen years later the Garden Spot Village Train Room includes HO-gauge and O-gauge layouts in a 1,837 square foot room in the Gardens West basement. Twenty-eight men officially belong to this micro-community, working together to serve and entertain the community.
The group serves the community by acting as a resource for other retirement communities who want to start a train room. They also recently partnered with New Holland Area Historical Society to build a small train layout to attract guests to the society’s historical display.
They have also helped multiple people downsize and clear out their home train rooms. For one woman,their assistance was life-giving. She had waited six years to tackle her late husband’s train room and really did not know where to start. In the course of a morning, the men dismantled and removed the layout, then swept the floor of the basement so it was clean.
To increase opportunities to entertain the community, in 2019 the group added three more public Open Houses to its schedule–March 30, June 29 and September 28. They also open the Train Room during the tours that follow Look & Learn Luncheons and when church and school groups visit Garden Spot Village. In addition, they host children attending Grands & Kids Camp and Take Your Daughter & Son to Work Day. All 28 members are critical to operating the trains and hosting guests during the Open Houses.
Mike Lanyon, Garden Spot Village resident since August 2004, Charley Hentz, resident since October 2013, and Art Johnsen, resident since August 2016, join Harry as the regulars in the Train Room. Mike uses his experience as an electrical engineer to help with the electrical components, Charley uses his experience as a high school physics teacher who taught electronics to help with the wiring and Art uses his experience as a commercial architect in designing very detailed scenery.
The group welcomes new resident members—both men and women, with and without model train experience—to join their community.
To watch Harry Black explain the vision for the Train Room, click here.