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Vintage collectibles draw hundreds to 1000 Islands Model Train Fair

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CLAYTON — Model train hobbyist Alan G. Betrus was on a mission to buy a vintage railroad-crossing sign Sunday during the 27th annual 1000 Islands Model Train Fair at Cerow Arena.

The Gouverneur man, who has sold collectibles here for eight years, was among hundreds who took part in the two-day show that featured model trains in every shape and size. Trains looped around modular sets that depicted American heartland scenes from the early 19th century — coal mines, small towns and farmland.

It took some scavenging before Mr. Betrus, 60, found a railroad-crossing sign with pair of flashing stoplights needed for his antique collection. It was made in the 1950s by Louis Max & Co., New York City.

“It’s absolutely a good deal,” he said of the $12 price. “The sign goes with my O-gauge track.”

Holding his prized purchase in one hand, Mr. Betrus exchanged friendly words with Rochester vendor Linda J. Demonte while he paid in cash with the other. It’s not the first year Mr. Betrus has bought collectibles at the fair from Mrs. Demonte, who has been a vendor here with her husband, Tony R., more than 20 years.

Stretching several tables long, the Demontes’ booth was packed with a hodgepodge of train toys.

“My husband’s been collecting trains since 1969,” Mrs. Demonte said.

He had momentarily left the booth, she said, to consider buying a vintage Adirondack train set.

“Like we need another one!” she said. “And he’ll buy it, too!”

Seasoned collectors presided over model railroad sets Sunday, mingling with spectators while directing the movement of miniature trains with electronic controls. Children stopped to admire the creative railroad set of Canadian Bruce E. Reynolds, which depicted the headquarters of a movie production company.

Because the railroad tracks are only 9 millimeters wide, Mr. Reynolds said, “N scale” train modules allow more room for artistic detail than larger sets do. His module has been tweaked numerous times since he built it with his son more than 20 years ago. It portrays the film sets of movies under production near a railroad track along the oceanside — Batman, transformer machines in battle and giant reptiles wreaking havoc.

Stationed atop a miniature four-story resort is a large octopus, for instance, with a firefighter gripped in one of its tentacles. An aerial firetruck has extended its ladder to the top of the building to make a rescue attempt, but in vain. On the street below, a massive sea turtle is attacking a dairy cow.

“One time a little girl was standing here and crying, because her dad is a firefighter,” he said. “She was convinced he was getting hurt by the octopus. But we showed her the cameraman filming the scene for a movie, and she was OK when she understood.”

Mr. Reynolds met friends at the fair from Syracuse and Cortland, who brought along different modules that were linked together to form a long miniature railroad loop. The club is named the West Winds, he said, because members always stay at West Winds Motel on Route 12 during the fair.

“I met these guys about 20 years ago at a train show in Syracuse,” the Ontario native said. “A group of us make plans to attend shows together. Some collectors are serious, but we’re here to have fun.”

Robert H. Thon, 73, exhibited a larger, standard-gauge train set that featured a 1950 ALCO model train, which traveled around a loop 14 feet wide. The Rochester collector, who builds and sells model trains, said the full-sized 1950 ALCO is still used today on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.

Though Mr. Thon travels to bigger shows across the country, he said, “I like this show because it’s my last trip to the Thousand Islands before the winter.”


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