Silver Spring, MD, January 18, 2014
They Sure Don’t Make Retirement Homes the Way They Used To
A trip to Leisure World at Silver Spring in January for one of their Model Railroad Open Houses, to which the members of the Potomac Division were invited, clued me in me that there has been a great deal of change in those sorts of facilities over the past few years. Not only are the residents much younger now (the lower limit is only 55), but everyone there that was involved with the railroads was younger than I am, a reminder that I didn’t really need.
There are three separate layouts in a sizeable basement room in Club House #2; the largest, the HO layout, is about 25’ by 20’. It has two main lines that can operate independently so that two trains can run continuously requiring little or no supervision, a feature that comes in very handy for a show of that type. The scenery is pretty much complete, including some beautifully painted backdrops by a non-railroader Leisure World resident, and a large number of very familiar structures: DPM, Walthers, Bachman, and others, most of which are still available. Some of the older structures were dressed up with lighted period signs. Even the ubiquitous Atlas Silver Spring Station was there, appearing twice in different locations. The motive power was pretty much standard, reliable HO plastic diesels controlled by DCC with sound, and the freight cars performed reliably as well. Evidently they don’t schedule passenger trains on Saturday. Everything ran very smoothly while I was there; even a long freight creeping across a long wooden trestle created no problems. If there had been any previous glitches they had long since worked them out. I wish I could say the same for my layout.
The other end of the room is shared by an N gauge layout and an O gauge three rail Lionel type with some O scale equipment added in. The N scale layout also was operating trouble free as did the O scale/Lionel, although you almost have to go out of your way with trains of that size and weight to have tracking difficulties. Again, there is no substitute for reliable equipment when you’ve invited guests over to observe your handiwork in action. There were N scale duplicates of some of the HO pieces, but the very different O gauge layout décor brought back memories of some of my own Lionel accessory pieces from the late 1940’s, and speaking of the 1940’s, one of the highlights of the club is actually hanging on the wall, a 1941 Pennsy calendar with an S1 steaming by in the background and the date set to December (think about it). Also, there are plans to rebuild the O gauge layout in the near future.
The weather was cooperative, the parking was ample and convenient, and the large club room space made for a very pleasant afternoon for those of us who could come. But before you become too personally enticed by their amenities, you need to be apprised of the downside; none of those types of places are inexpensive. After discussing the economics of Leisure World with one of the train club member/residents, I realized that if I were to want to live there I would find myself in a position similar to the two protagonists in the early 20th century short story by O’Henry: The Gift of the Magi. In order to pay for the place I would have to sell my trains.