YORK — Displayed prominently in the York basement of Larry Keller’s is a train set model representing the coal region in the days the Reading Railroad Iron Horse Rambles rode from Philadelphia to Shamokin.
While many train enthusiasts have gone to different lengths to make the displays unique, Keller went all the way back to his hometown roots with a large panoramic photo background of Shamokin.
The big steam engine makes its way around the intricate 5-by-10-foot train display, always seemingly ending beneath the coal mountains of Shamokin.
Keller said his idea was to create a coal region scene and was surprised when his friends Mike and Mary Lou Baney surprised him with the background. The Baney’s visited Shamokin with Keller a few years ago during the Anthracite Heritage Festival. While there, Mike had taken a picture of the view of the city from the Shamokin Cemetery.
While helping put the display together, Mike printed off three pictures to present to Keller to choose from. When he saw the photograph of Shamokin, there was no other choice for him.
Baney works for a printing company and took the photo in to blow up for the background. Keller said from what he understands, it’s the largest picture the company had ever printed.
The layout of the train was built by the Baney’s, who took all of Keller’s ideas and made them a reality. They paid close attention to details, even creating the illusion of a road running from the display into the city backdrop.
The lower end shows the train stopping at a colliery, cars filled with coal and a small building standing before an enlarged photo of an unknown colliery Baney found through a Google image search.
About two years before the display was built, Keller sold his train collection, but his 50-year-desire to own a model of a Reading Steam engine never subsided. When he had the opportunity to finally own one, he didn’t pass it up.
The display boasts more than 150 figures, including a model of Roy Rogers’ horse, Trigger, painted gold. A closer look shows the fine details like two hawks flying over a mountain or a crow flying over a cornfield. The display is set up like an old-time scene from Keller’s childhood growing up in Shamokin.
Keller grew up in Shamokin on Second Street, the first house when entering the city from Trevorton. He was a 1957 graduate of Shamokin High School and remembers when downtown was filled with five-and-dimes and hardware stores, and trains from the Reading Railroad made regular trips through Shamokin.
He recalls a popular hangout spot for him and his friends was a block station for the Reading Railroad called the Herndon Branch Junction, located near the Cameron Bridge off the side of the Trevorton Road. The rail line off the main line went up above the rock well. When the concrete bridge was removed, it was pretty much covered up.
In 1962, Keller’s dad was given in a job in York, so he decided to move with him. He married a woman from Dornsife and the two stayed in York.
His display hasn’t gone unappreciated by the public despite being in his basement. Keller has taken neighbors and church groups to show it off, and said they were amazed when he could point out scenes from his childhood in the photo background.