The amazing MGEN Railroad
● By Kerigan Butt
By Steven Hoffman
The trains aren’t running today.
It’s a cold day in late February, snow is in the forecast, and Gil Green’s amazing model railroad is partially buried under a season’s worth of snow and ice in the side yard of his home on Flint Hill Road.
Green will run his trains year-round. In fact, he likes nothing better than to start a fire in the pit, cook some food, and then run his trains at night for his friends and neighbors. Cooking, eating, swimming, and watching the trains―they amount to a good evening. But it’s too cold and too messy to run the trains today. Green can still talk about them.
He’s a retired teacher who spent more than 40 years educating students, mostly in the Red Clay School District in Delaware. When he talks about the trains, his thoughts are perfectly organized―he’s in teacher mode, which is natural for him.
He starts the story about the MGEN Railroad at the beginning―May 17, 2010, not that long ago. May 17 is Green’s birthday, and that’s the day that his wife, Margaret, gave him his first G scale train that included an engine, one box car, a caboose, a track, and a power pack. He spent the rest of the summer of 2010 setting up the railroad in the back yard by the goldfish pond and waterfalls.
He named the railroad MGEN, which is pronounced like Megan, in honor of his four grandchildren, Megan, Grant, Emma, and Natalie.
“I am so proud of my grandchildren and naming my railroad after them was the least I could do,” Green explained.
When his wife passed away unexpectedly in the early spring of 2011, Green said that expanding the railroad became a necessary diversion for him. He is constructing it in her memory.
The track is now 35 feet by 50 feet, and Green says that people are usually pretty amazed when they see the trains run for the first time. There are six separate tracks and Green can run six separate trains on them. Two more tracks are planned for construction in the spring and summer of this year.
“I did not intend it to come to this point,” he said. “The interest is because my wife started this.”
Many people in the neighborhood know about Green’s impressive model railroad.
“Word spreads,” he explained. “Some families have been here several times. They tell their friends and neighbors, then they come and then tell their friends.”
Green's father sparked his interest in trains by buying him Lionel Trains when he was a youngster. The family also had model trains set up under the Christmas tree each year.
“The interest really started there,” Green explained. “I've always liked trains. I’m fascinated by them.”
He has ridden on the Wilmington and Western Railroad, whose tracks used to go through Landenberg. Green has hiked along these former trails as part of the White Clay Creek Preserve. This includes the once-upon-a-time Newark and Pomeroy Railroad, which also ran through Landenberg.
“Railroad history in Landenberg is amazing,” Green explained.
He has also ridden on the Strasburg Railroad. Green grew up in Syracuse, New York, and recalls many trips on the former New York Central Railroad and the current Amtrak.
Although he enjoyed these excursions, he did not start building his own model train. He was busy teaching elementary school, spending 29 years at the Anna P. Mote School in the Red Clay School District.
When he retired, he finally had the time to enjoy the hobby.
“Grown men can play with trains,” he said with a laugh. In fact, model railroads are popular with children and adults, but may be even more popular with older hobbyists―in part because of the expenses associated with the trains, and in part because youngsters today have so many other options.
It did not take him long to learn the basics of how to set up and run a model railroad. Green explained that the model railroads come in various sizes, with most running indoors except for the G Scale models that he runs.
He met other collectors in the area and started going to open houses that they hosted. With each visit to a new open house, he would pick up one or two ideas that he liked for his own model railroad.
“I drive around the tri-state area and see other people who have G Scale trains,” he explained. “We see what the others are doing and we learn from each other. I also belong to a model railroad club which affords me experienced people to ask questions of or people who can solve problems for me.”
Green explained that he buys most of his trains from Ebay, Nicholas Smith Trains in Broomall, Pa., or RLD Hobbies in Albion, Indiana. He also usually attends the East Coast Train Show that is held in York, Pa. each March.
Green took a memorable trip to Alaska in 2012 and rode the Alaskan Railroad from Fairbanks to Denali.
“It was amazing. I was mesmerized by this experience,” he explained, “and consequently, I have purchased and run Alaskan model railroad engines and cars. I have made cars in the Alaskan imagery to add to my Alaskan collection. I have five Alaskan engines which can run alone or together.”
He has between 50 and 60 assorted freight and passenger cars along with more than a dozen engines of related strengths in his collection. The big engines can cost anywhere from $200 to $350 each.
“The expense of maintaining the MGEN Railroad is considerable,” he explained. “There are always parts to buy or new cars or engines to buy. Maintenance is ongoing.”
He runs the trains during the winter when the weather allows. The track itself is made of brass so that it does not rust, but weathering is still a major concern. Green said that he puts away the engines, cars, and the power pack away each night. The railroad is subject to continued weathering and the track and trestles need repair.
“I do that work myself,” Green explained.
One of his goals is to stabilize the trestles that he currently has. He also wants to install a digital control on several of the engines.
Green has already had two open houses, and he wants to have more, especially at night so that people can come and enjoy ambiance of seeing the trains run with their lights.
He also wants to purchase more cars and engines so that he can run the same namesake line. For example, he could run an all-Alaska line, an all-Santa Fe line, or an all-Rio Grande line.
“I have ideas for expansion,” he said. “I would like to see it grow.”
Green welcomes friends and neighbors to stop by when the trains are running to see the MGEN Railroad. He can be contacted at email@example.com to arrange a visit.
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email firstname.lastname@example.org.