Around Town

Strong Ties

The Providence Northern Model Railroad Club builds miniatures and community in Warwick

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Providence Northern is a world of hills and forests, small towns and railroad depots, where trains ease across bridges and illuminate tunnels with their headlights. There are factories and cottages, gas pumps and traffic signals – and it all fits into the second story of an old grange in Warwick.

“We all like trains,” says John Breitmaier, a leading member of the Providence Northern Model Railroad Club. “Some people just want to run the trains. Others want to build them.”

True to its name, the club was founded in Providence in 1994. About 12 years ago, the club moved to this century-old social club in Warwick. Shortly after their move, though, neighborhood kids started an accidental fire, damaging the structure. This delayed construction of their new railroad by a year, but it also enabled Breitmaier and his fellow modelers to carefully design its layout.

The club is also a nonprofit organization and education center, and the public is welcome to stop in any Saturday from 10am to 4pm. Behind a heavy wood door, visitors enter a labyrinth of miniature landscapes and narrow walkways. The club claims 35 to 40 standing members, who use the elaborate digital system to navigate trains through simulated countryside and busy railyards.

“It’s very diverse,” says Breitmaier of his fellow members. “We have guys with doctorates. We’ve got firemen. We’ve got truck drivers.”

And Breitmaier himself? He was a conductor for the actual railroad – for 40 years. He worked with passenger trains, organizing the cars and seeing to their cleaning and maintenance. As a child, Breitmaier assembled model trains with his father; later, he revived the pastime with his own children. For the club, he’s helped design the vivid scenery that makes the models so photorealistic.

Breitmaier is proud of the laidback communal atmosphere and the chance to simply tinker. “I’m definitely a better modeler now than when I started,” he says. “I didn’t know how to solder or wire electronics. We give everybody free range. You get your own key, you can come when you want to. If you want to be here at two in the morning, running trains, knock yourself out. I’ve heard at other clubs, you have to be a member for a year before you can even come in on your own. They don’t want you touching anything. Here, we do it all in fun.” Warwick