His Own Lilliput

Model Trains, Down East Magazine

Engineer Eric Schade has created an elaborate railway village in his Phippsburg garden.

[E]ric Schade grabs his toolbox and hurries toward a locomotive that’s stalled on the track in the woods in front of his Phippsburg home. Like a real-life Gulliver, he strides over his garden railway village and past a replica of the Phippsburg Congregational Church, its 4-foot steeple nearly brushing his chest.

Kneeling in front of the locomotive, he grabs the butane from his toolbox and stokes the engine’s fire. Within seconds, fingers of steam waft into the wintry air. One adjustment later and the locomotive plows through the powdery snow, pulling a caravan of train cars around the first bend in 350 feet of track. “There we go!” says Schade, laughing.

A train enthusiast since boyhood, Schade began collecting German-made, large-scale (⅞ inch =1 foot) weatherproof train cars about 20 years ago, subsequently modifying them and building his own cars from scratch. He named his railroad the Winnegance and Quebec — W&Q for short. When Schade’s son, Ben, was 14, the two joined in a live steam-locomotive–building marathon. “Locomotives can take hundreds of hours,” says Schade, an MIT-trained mechanical engineer and a designer and builder of canoes, kayaks, and other small boats. “But working together, we managed to each complete a train, taking 40 to 80 hours per locomotive and having good fun trying to make them as authentic as possible.”

Schade has populated the W&Q line with figures dressed in turn-of-the-century garb — a wife anticipating the train’s arrival, a worried conductor peering at his pocket watch, and Santa waving to bystanders from inside a passenger car. He has designed landscapes using indigenous plants, like the spruce and hemlock saplings that he dug up in the woods and transplanted around a miniature, two-story clapboard house. His harbor has its own lighthouse and, on special occasions (like “steamups” with fellow railway enthusiasts), Schade’s model of a two-masted wooden schooner. Exacting craftsmanship and authentic sounds make it easy to imagine the tiny stevedore on the pier shouting orders to his crew. “Detail is what gives the railroad character,” Schade explains.

Railway lines are demanding mechanical entities that require an engineer’s vigilant eye. When Schade’s locomotive derails, he cants his head thoughtfully, lowers himself to the ground, and quickly realigns it on the bifurcated tracks. Whistling, the locomotive clatters away.

Photographs by Mark Fleming

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