Local model railroader recreates 1950s Flagstaff
By BETSEY BRUNER/Arizona Daily Sun
June 15, 2011 at 1:15 a.m.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) - It's a busy spring day in the mid-1950s near the train depot in downtown Flagstaff. A railroad worker sweeps the platform at the depot; a worker at the Northern Arizona Warehouse Company loads boxes into a blue GMC pickup truck; nearby, a policeman in a black uniform walks his beat on Beaver Street; and two men in work aprons and suspenders chat, while a black poodle looks on at the Flagstaff Lumber Company.
"It's Saturday chatting at the lumberyard," said Phil Scandura, who made all the structures in the small shelf layout in his office, depicting a slice of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe railroad through Flagstaff circa 1950s. "I've played with trains since I was very little, and I still play with them, and I'm proud of that."
A shelf to the left holds a spur of track running out to what was then El Paso Fuels and Flagstaff Roofing Supply, both located on Butler Avenue, which is historically correct but not geographically, as it was far from the downtown section depicted.
"I just liked that area and wanted to capture it," he said. "I wanted some industry to bring railroad cars back and forth to. A shelf layout is often like a puzzle - deciding how to move a railroad car from one place to another in the least amount of moves."
Working from his own measurements, track maps and other historical information, Scandura, 50, labored for two years to bring this little world into reality, something he really loves to do.
"The two years includes research and planning, and a few of those days when I just didn't feel like working on it," he said. "Any veteran model railroader will tell you the layout is never really finished. There's always more detail you can add - more people, or a truck that needs painting."
Scandura calls himself an "amateur historian and preservationist," with an interest in local Flagstaff history and culture.
"I've just graduated to the point where my preference is modeling prototypes when I actually can," he said. "It's about historic preservation, even if only in miniature - sometimes these buildings aren't protected, and they end up being torn down."
He unveiled the shelf model in early May, mostly just for friends and family to enjoy.
One wall has a section of track running past Beaver and San Francisco streets.
"This part of the shelf layout captures a slice of Flagstaff," he explained. "Imagine yourself standing at the passenger depot looking south across the tracks. You'd see the lumberyard and warehouse, and over to Rio de Flag and the old bridges."
All the buildings in the downtown layout are now serving other purposes than those in the 1950s.
The Hutchinson Motors building on the east side of the layout was a Pontiac and International Harvester dealer, and it is now an office facility that housed the Democratic headquarters during the last presidential election.
"If you look through the front window you will see a tractor," Scandura said. "That was back when you could buy a tractor in town."
Model railroading is a hobby where rail transport systems are built at a reduced scale or gauge.
Scandura said his preferred model gauge is "N," one of the smallest, but the Santa Fe layout is in "S'' gauge, a larger but not very common size for train models.
Parts and kits are less available and buildings in layout often need to be built from scratch using doors and windows that can be ordered through the Internet.
Scandura said he chose to work in that gauge because his eyes are not as good as they once were.
"This was an experiment into this scale size," he said. "With the bifocals and older eyes, I said, 'Let's try this.'"
A layout is the exacting model of a railroad and the scenery through which it passes.
Attention to detail in the entire layout is the name of the game for Scandura, who works as an electrical engineer designing cockpits for commercial airplanes.
For example, in the middle section of the layout, a flat car loaded with flagstone stands next to a platform with a crane for loading and unloading freight.
The miniature flagstone on the car, in tidy little stacks, is real.
"Some of it's from Ash Fork, and some of it's from Paulden," he said about the stone. "It does layer. You get under it just right, you can pick up a layer and start breaking it into reasonable chunks."
Scandura fashioned the buildings from white styrene sheets, using a sharp craft knife to cut the plastic.
Looking through his records, Scandura said the whole project cost about $2,500.
"As with any hobby, you can spend as much or as little as you want," he said.
Scandura, who was born in New Jersey and raised in Missouri, came to Arizona in 1984, after graduating from college.
Living in Phoenix, he worked in electrical engineering at Honeywell Aerospace.
He also met his wife, Lori, who is a retired schoolteacher.
With their two sons, they moved up to Flagstaff in 2007.
After moving here, Scandura joined the Flagstaff Model Railroad Club and was an active member until 2010.
"I didn't renew this year, but still keep in contact with everyone," he added.
Son David, 18, just graduated from Coconino High School and is on to college, but his bedroom will probably end up in use by Lori, who is an avid quilter.
Scandura said he may get the next bedroom for his train passion, after his other son, Matthew, 13, moves on to college.
For now, he's happy to have his model hobby in his home office, and to be in a train town.
The family lives near Pulliam Airport, which is handy because Scandura has to commute to Phoenix and other locations for his design work.
"I like the Flagstaff airport, but I'd rather take a train," he said.
Hopefully, he'll have better luck than the train passenger who looks at his watch on the miniature platform at the depot.
"He's going to be waiting a long time," Scandura said. "I don't have a passenger train for him; I never bought one."
Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/