To listen to the fellows tell it as they set up their model trains, the obsession typically begins in childhood.
For Bob Phillips of Tonawanda, it's because his parents put a train set around the Christmas tree every year.
For Whitney Mallam of Niagara Falls, it was because his grandfather lived a block from the old New York Central Station on Falls Street in Niagara Falls and he would take young Whitney there to watch the trains.
Doug Nagel of Lockport got his first Lionel Steam Locomotive for Christmas when he was 5.
And so it all began. The three men, all members of the Niagara Orleans Model Railroad Engineers, shared the earliest memories of their their love for trains as they set up two giant model railroads at the Niagara Falls Amtrak Station on Wednesday. The station will host the club's exhibit until July 18.
The exhibits, depicting tiny train yards, cities and villages, farmland and a other settings is designed to scale.
The fun in building the tiny models is to craft them to be as close to the prototype as possible, said Nagel, a retired ceramics engineer, who loves all aspects of the hobby.
"Being an engineer, my favorite part is the mechanics and the electrical," he said. Getting those little trains to run and light up provides a certain satisfaction. But, he also loves building the tracks, laying the tracks and creating the scenery, a feeling shared by all three.
One of the first visitors to the exhibit was station caretaker John Rogers who pointed out to a visitor his favorite parts of one of the exhibits, which is 20-by-40 feet. He walked over to one scene depicting a countryside snow storm. "Look at that," he said, pointing to a car about the size of a fingernail which looked as if it had hit a deer, slid off the road and overturned. The itty bitty deer lay nearby in the snow, while on the nearby road, a tiny snowplow pushed a pile of snow.
"I've been looking at all the details," Rogers said. "There's a lot to this exhibit."
Mallam, an attorney, admits that engineers appreciate the tiniest of details in their recreations, particularly where the trains are concerned. The trains displayed are an HO-Scale and N-Trak, all supporting analog DC and digital DCC with remote operations. The hobbyist explained that model train lovers would know just what those words meant, but largely it means the trains are operated by a computer and several trains can go different speeds simultaneously.
An uninitiated visitor just nods at the jargon and admires the fine details of the model trains and scenic depictions.
"It's an obsession," Whitney Mallam said, adding, "It gets in your blood."
The Niagara Orleans Model Railroad engineers are comprised of about 30 members who come from as far away as Middleport to South Wales. They meet at 7:30 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the Niagara County Public Safety Building in Lockport.