December 1st, 2011
One of the smaller, more personal, holiday displays is the Holiday Train Show at Woodbridge’s Baron Arts Center. This layout has been setup and chiefly run by Mike Gelesky for over 20 years now. This O gauge layout covers an area of about 32’x8’ and is open for viewing from December 2-29. There is no charge, and donations to the Baron Arts Center are welcome of course.
This display has several tracks, on different levels, and the engines are changed around every couple of days (most of the engines are from Mike’s personal collection, and some are even hand painted and detailed by Mike himself). While this layout does not specifically copy any particular town, it is uniquely Jerseyesque.
Mike has built several modular scenes and buildings that he occasionally swaps around to different parts of the layout. He has a large Jersey Boardwalk scene, complete with swimmers, concession stands, several working amusement rides, and a lighthouse. There is a little picturesque downtown area with a replica of Independence Hall, a working water fountain, and several little shops (some of which have been named after his friends and family, and some even have little funny names- of which you will have to see for yourself!). Also on the layout are a trailer park, a playground with swinging swings and seesawing seesaws, a busy NJ Turnpike exit, softball field, hockey arena, trolley & train shed, brewery, an amazing replica of the Baron Arts Center itself with fireworks in the background, and even Elmo makes a cameo- but you have to find him on your own! As you walk around this layout, it becomes exceedingly difficult to not be amazed at it’s sheer size and the vast number of different activities going on in the little towns right below your nose!
Mike spends countless hours assembling (and at the end of the show dismantelling) the Baron Arts Center Holiday Train layout, and he has it all down to an art. He has the table-bases all built so they lock into each other, and the wiring is already hooked up in sections, and when the display comes down, they all stack nicely on top of each other for storage in a small trailer. All the trees are stored in plastic garbage cans until it’s time to install them. The hundreds, if not thousands, of miniature people are all in plastic bags, and yes- most were hand painted by Mike (a painstaking task). The trains are brought in on plastic bread trays that are the perfect size for O scale trains. Many of the model buildings are from Mike’s personal layout at home, and are easily moved around thanks to his ingenuity & engineering them to be modular- they all have the same kind of electrical plugs and are not permanently nailed, screwed, or glued down to his layout. The trees all plop right in to their spots. Cars and trucks are easily placed on the roads and in parking lots, including several “customized” vehicles- such as the Middlesex County Parks Department dump truck and lawn mower. But the most time-consuming part, is probably installing all the little people throughout the layout. Mike uses sticky tack on the bottom of the people to keep them in place, then places them in random locations, with the exception of a few- a wedding party by the church, the ball players on the softball field, the bundled-up poeple in the winter wonderland scene.
Mike truly puts his heart into that train display. He has said that not only does it give him an opportunity to play with his trains, but it more importantly brings smiles to the faces of children, and brings back memories to their parents and grandparents of years gone by. On many occasions, he has the same people visit the layout several times throughout the holiday season. Then of course there’s the people who remember visiting the layout as a kid, and who are just returning for their first time in many years with little kids of their own, and who are pleasantly surprised with the evolution of this magnificent layout. During the week, schools will even plan class trips to view the Holiday Train Display. It’s a great event to bring the family to, and to talk to Mike about- he tries to be there on weekends, and when work allows.
On a side note:
For me and my family, the Baron Arts Center Holiday Train Display holds a special meaning. I proposed to my then-future wife during a “private viewing” there in 2007... Since I work with Mike, we were talking about memorable ways to propose. I was thinking of places that held special a meaning to her and I- from where we first met at the Milltown Petco, to our first date at Point Pleasant, to our little walks around New Hope, and our hike up Schooley’s Mountain Park in Washington Township. However, the season wasn’t right for an outdoor engagement- it was freezing outside! So thinking of indoor places, we came up with family homes (but who’s?), museums, maybe a mall with Santa Claus bringing out the ring all wrapped up... Then Mike mentioned that we could do it at the holiday display. I liked the idea, and we started brainstorming. We were thinking of where to put the ring- on a Trolley? In a clam on the beach scene? In the little outhouse? On the hockey ring’s Zamboni? Then, Mike had the idea that I could give him the ring before our viewing, and he could put the it on a flatbed car, with a spotlight shining on it, in the middle of his Christmas Disney train on the holiday layout, and pull it out of tunnel in front of her. We expanded the idea to include a billboard with “My sweet Melissa, wanna get coupled for life?” printed on it and placed behind the ring(coupled being a play on words- when trains hook up to each other, it’s called coupling). So that was the plan that was set for December 4th, 2007, and it went off without a hitch (HA! another little play on words). Needless to say, a mere 8 months later (on 08/08/08), we were coupled for life.