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The Yankee Express

Go Where the Rail May Run

Charles Tatsis of the Worcester Model Railroaders Club at Old Sturbridge Village where his Christmas Town train layout is on display.

By Patty Roy

Old Sturbridge Village is currently alive with thousands of lights – sparkling on trees and fences outside the early American homes of the 1830s . It’s a special celebration called “Christmas by Candlelight” and a walk around the village is spectacular.   
As the dwellings, shops and Meeting House are sourced from New England, they will look familiar to Worcester County residents, though the Christmas decorations they sport would have seemed strange to those who lived during this era. The region had everything present day holiday makers like to see during this joyful season - plenty of greenery and red winterberries, wood to stoke roaring fires and a knack for pie-making and mulling cider.
But Christmas didn’t really become a big deal until the mid-1800s when the Puritan hold on the population (and the holiday) finally loosened. 
As OSV relaxed some of the strictures on Christmas, there are a few anachronistic touches around the village that are magical, anyway.
You can ride in a carryall drawn by two American Belgian horses, a precursor to the group transportation of modern buses – definitely not out of place and time. Or,  you can visit the more modern Christmas Express Model Trains set up by the Worcester Model Railroaders Club of Webster with miniature seasonally appropriate scenery, taste of transportation models to come.
The connection between railroads and Old Sturbridge Village? Railroading was just arriving on the scene in the 1830s and 1840s.
Charles Tatsis built his model railroad with a love that he has held for trains since he received his first set of Lionels many Christmases ago.
“I’ve been in this since I was four or five,” he said about his hobby. “When I was a kid you hoped for one of these or an Erector set . I got the Lionel trains and my brother got an Erector set. We built a lot of stuff with that.”
Model train tracks are scaled to various sizes with O Scale (1:48) being one of the most popular and oldest scales in the model railroading world.
“What it means is a quarter inch to the foot,” he said. “A G gauge is a little bit bigger; it’s a half inch to the foot.  HO scale is called that because it stands for Half O Scale, so it’s about an eighth of an inch to the foot.”
The Worcester Model Railroaders Club has a 40’ by 50’ HO layout . A second layout is 10’ by 37’ O gauge.
Some folks bring their own trains, but there are also club trains and cars that are free to try. 
“Anybody’s welcome,” Tatsis said. “I’ll be glad to show them around.”
Tatsis enjoys creating his own little world on train set-ups. But it can be an expensive hobby if you let it, said with a smile.
Tatsis’ experience with trains is first hand on the Boston to Albany route. He was an engineer for Conrail, a freight carrier, for about five years, he said, after training for about five months in New Haven.
“I did a little bit of that and once in a while they they’d call us from Amtrak (passenger trains) to engineer,” Tatsis related.
It was the fulfillment of a childhood dream, he admitted. 
The schedule he followed was leaving home on Saturdays at 10:31 a.m.  and didn’t return until about 5 p.m. the next day. Then the crews were home again for a day or two according to national safety rules. There were occasional overnight stays in Albany.
When Totsis was with Conrail the train crew consisted of an engineer, a fireman and a conductor, along with a head end brakeman and a rear end brakeman. Trains also had a caboose in those days.
“But they don’t have that anymore. Not like it used to be,” he said with a tinge of of sadness. “I caught the tail end of it.”
An admitted train spotter, Tatsis remembers when you could set your watch by the appearance of trains at certain crossings. “They were that on time,” he said.
He also appreciates the romance of train travel. 
“Years ago you could just about go anywhere by train, he said.  “You could get around easier then than you can now.”
The Worcester Model Railroaders Club is located at 14 Rail Road Ave., Unit 54 ​Webster, just over the tracks and to the right. Meetings are held Tuesdays 6-9 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. Meetings can go overtime if there’s a good crowd.