Bruce Greenburg’s Layout Open House
May 1, 2011
By Bill Day

Most modelers I know say they “started with a Lionel train set.”Modelers growing up in the ‘30s and 40’s owe their interest in large part to Joshua Lionel Cowan of Irvington, New Jersey.

    Cowan’s creativity—working semaphores, bascule bridges, coal tipples, animated milk cars—launched what he called “the greatest hobby on earth.” Last month, to bring back those days, Potomac Division modelers crowded around Bruce Greenburg’s O Gauge layout featuring most of the rolling stock and structures of the famed Lionel Lines.

To no one’s surprise, Bruce is the founder of Greenburg Shows, a universally popular series of traveling exhibits that started in the East and eventually reached every big city in America. His layout originated as the focus of the Greenburg Shows, the country’s first large-scale modular train exhibit. So successful were the shows that Kalmbach Publishing purchased the production and made it a subsidiary of the corporation.Moreover, Bruce and his wife, Linda, published a wide variety of early enthusiast books and maintenance manuals for Lionel lovers. To read Lionel catalogs of 60 years ago is to get a free rail pass to one’s youth.

The Lionel layout in Alexandria is, in Bruce’s words,” a light and sound show.” Hundreds of lights dot the layout: street lamps, semaphores, street markers, bumpers, crossing gatesand passenger car interiors all glow or blink for visitors. The iconic Hellgate Bridge, whose prototype is in New York, is crested with dazzling chase lights, outlining the bridge and its famous arc.
Two main rail lines serve a diesel freight consist and a steam passenger train. Passenger cars are complete down to, er, water closets with effluent pipes. The steam Engine cab echoes with chatter among engineers, firemen and conductors. Within the mainlines are two trolley shuttles and a smaller circle of track for a scale children’s train ride.

At a recent National Model Railroad Association national convention, a psychiatrist who is also a modeler, conducted a clinic titled “Are Train Modelers Nuts?”  (The clinic was mobbed). After discussing the research, the focus groups, the anecdotal evidence, the clinician said that the driving force, the obvious passion, the indisputable signature of the modeler was…”nostalgia.”
So, if it’s nostalgia you wanted, Bruce provided it. His time capsule was everything you hoped it would be.  In building his exhibit, sharing it with us, popularizing  model railroads and bringing the experience to every corner of America, Bruce and his miniature world belong in the pantheon of America’s modeling stars.

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