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Conductor Chuck

Our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays walkers knew the temperatures were going to be high as we assembled at the Exedra this past Wednesday. It was is going to be "Piedmont hot," with temperatures in the upper 80s.

Our hearty group of 45 walkers and one K-9 best friend were there to do and see something special, so the heat would be less of an issue. Retired architect Chuck O had offered us an opportunity to see the large and highly detailed model railroad he has built in the basement of his Oakland Avenue home. So this visit would be a shorter walk and offer a fun activity on a hot day. We headed off going down Magnolia Avenue past the high school and the construction for the new Piedmont Aquatics Center. Peak holes in the construction fence allowed us to make inspections. We continued down Magnolia past El Cerrito Avenue where a home is undergoing extensive construction, and EBMUD has been repairing a critical water pipeline leak. We took the upper roadway of San Carlos Avenue to Oakland Avenue. Along San Carlos we passed a car that very badly needed a wash, but made me feel good about the cleanliness of my car. We turned down Oakland Avenue and quickly came to Chuck's house, which had a temporary railroad crossing sign in front. Chuck came out to greet us and a group photo was taken. We then went down the driveway to a garage area where Chuck had chairs and beverages waiting for us. In response to a question, Chuck recounted the origins of both his train fascination and his architectural career. When he was just a little boy almost all of his earliest toys were building/construction related. Starting with tinker toys, over the years they became more complex and sophisticated - slowly developing the technological, research, construction, artistic and planning skills required for an architectural career and for a historically accurate scale model railroad. In his basement "time machine" it's always the 1950s and a sunny spring day in upper New York state western Massachusetts and eastern New York. There's heavy freight and passenger train traffic on his HO scale version of the Boston & Albany Division of the New York Central railroad. The trains pass through the Berkshire Hills in route to Pittsfield, Mass. Chatham, N.Y. and, eventually, Albany N.Y. Along the way are small villages, industries, downtowns, swiftly moving rivers and hill sides forested with some 4,000 detailed trees. All locomotives have been equipped with sophisticated integrated circuits that control locomotive sounds momentum and speed. And steam locomotives have synchronized smoke effects. In addition, all locomotives, rolling stock, buildings, automobiles, and scenery are "weathered" to create a realistic, muted appearance and to eliminate a toy train resemblance. To ensure his work of art need not be destroyed if it ever needs to be moved, his model railroad is built in large modules that can be separated with minimal damage. He also enlarged his basement window so the modules can be slipped out through it. Chuck has been working on his model railroad for some 20 years. This phase one measures about 400 square feet and is essentially complete. But he has recently begun the planning for a second phase which will almost double its size. Now retired, Chuck doesn't think he will need another 20 years to complete phase two. The large number of walkers and the confined aisle space only allowed for about a dozen of us to go inside see the trains at a time. Walkers each took four to five minutes viewing the model and then came back outside to allow others, who were waiting in the garage's shade, to go inside. It took about 40 minutes for everyone to get a chance, and it was then time for us to start our return to the city center. We thanked Chuck for this special visit, and went directly back. Walking some nearby streets would have to wait for another Wednesday, and hopefully a cooler one. P.S. If you weren't able to be with us, a video of Chuck's creation is at


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