Lights, horns and even smoke stacks — Growing up, Mark Harris, of Market Street Hardware in Portsmouth, remembers being mesmerized by his grandfather’s train set. Now, he has his own train, racing across the tracks suspended from the store ceiling for visitors and shoppers.
“He had the entire Village of New Boston down to scale,” Harris stated about his grandfather’s train set.
The tiny representation of the Village was magical for the young Harris. His grandfather had worked meticulously on the tiny homes, streets, trees and even the many Village landmarks, making a model of New Boston in the early 40’s. During the holidays, Harris’ grandfather would drag out the entire set and watch as the children in the family lit up with excitement.
Since childhood, Harris has wanted in own set. In fact, this is not the first train to run through the store. For years, Harris had a friend’s train blowing its whistle as it lapped a figure eight track tooting its whistle throughout the front of the store. He also inherited his grandfather’s set, but is currently in the process of renovating the pieces.
Harris has always been around trains – trains that belonged to someone else. In recent years, he felt desire beckoning him to have a train of his very own. Harris explained that as a licensed dealer, Market Street Hardware already has trains on display. However, there were no tracks set up for them to run. There was no magic. Thus, Harris’ project began.
His first dilemma was trying to figure out how to run the track. Harris said he had known for years that he wanted the track to suspend from the store ceiling. He had thought about using a metal television antenna tower. That proved too hard to work with. The other option was ladders. The store already had two old, wooden ladders that seemed like a perfect option. Overtime, friends and clients brought in wooden ladders they were planning to throw away. Soon, Harris had all the ladders he needed.
“The ladders just worked out great,” Harris commented.
The wooden extensions ladders are suspended from the ceiling with ¼ inch chain and are perfect in combining the two focal points of the store – hardware and toys. The ladders support three trains, running on three tracks including an outer 90 foot track and two inner 36 foot tracks. The trains include lights, whistles and even working smoke stacks. Under the track is wire fencing, which keeps things from falling over and crashing to the floor.
“I left a wrench up there the other day, and a train fell over but nothing fell through,” Harris said. “It looks pretty neat at night with all the lights out.”
The set is a G scale, which is the largest mass produced train scale.
“These things were made to be run outside,” Harris stated.
In fact, G scale trains have often been termed garden sets because they went around people’s outdoor gardens.
Outside the track, Harris has antiques hanging from the ladders and fencing, many of which are old train memorabilia. The collection includes old Norfolk and Western lanterns, oil cans and signage. Harris explained that he has not had to go out and look for many of the items. As with the ladder search, the community has really supported his project by bringing his items.
The entire project took years of thought and planning and two months of construction. And, it is exactly how Harris designed with no need to continue adding new trains or settings.
“I’m not going to run other directions or anything,” Harris explained. “That’s about all I can get up there. If I do anything else, it may be some stationary displays of other gauges. He currently has a Line L gauge on display upstairs of Market Street Hardware.
Harris explained that his train has been getting lots of attention. Shoppers entering the story are instantly drawn to the toy.
“There’s still a good bit of interest in trains in this area,” Harris stated. “People come in looking for different sizes all the time.”
Train enthusiasts are encouraged to stop in and see the fun display by visiting Market Street Hardware at 217 Market Street in Portsmouth.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1930.