They are the cream of the crop in model train making, creators of what they believe to be the largest small-scale modular railroad of its kind.
And now the makers of the Sundance Central Modular Railroad village — a self-contained world spanning 45 feet by 20 feet, with 235 feet of hand-laid aluminum rails — will show visitors the painstaking task of building such a masterpiece.
"We can teach everything but patience," said modeler Dave Revelia, a retired Largo firefighter.
The Suncoast Center for Fine Scale Modeling in Odessa, open to the public once a month, is holding hourly clinics and demonstrations today and Sunday.
"It's always been our idea to be fluid, to share this hobby," Revelia said.
A year ago, Revelia, Dale MacKeown and a handful of other hobbyists turned a warehouse at the West Pasco Industrial Park into the Suncoast Center for Fine Scale Modeling. The 7,800-square-foot facility includes the award-winning railroad as well as small-scale models depicting everything from early pioneer life to World War II action.
Their opening weekend drew thousands of visitors from all over Tampa Bay. Now the founders want to share what they have learned.
Revelia is one of four modelers who will present the fundamentals of making scenery, vegetation, trees and rocks, and of conjuring the vintage, rusty look that brings Sundance Central's 1900s rail city to life.
The village contains countless authentic touches, from old-fashioned billboards to hanging laundry to tiny markets filled with fish and fruit. Car windows are hazy with age. Barrels are dented and rusted.
The group has built an old-time workbench that fits in with the Sundance Central's motif, but is also outfitted with modern amenities like a ceiling mirror to provide a bird's eye view of the detailed work, and a large flat-screen television so many patrons can view the workshops up close.
Presenters will distill hours-long processes into easy-to-grasp clinics. For example, it takes several hours to turn a piece of basswood into one of the lush pines that dot the Sundance Central. Starting with a pyramid-shaped piece of wood, the modelers use tools to shave down the wood into a smooth cylinder. Then, for texture, the wood is dragged over a bed of nails, then a comb is used to drag Bondo auto body fill onto the wood to create the base of the tree.
A black paint base is applied to provide shadows on the tree, before color is added for tree bark. To finish, holes are drilled and the modelers plug in actual foliage for the branches.
The use of real branches and other materials is one of the great joys of the craft, Revelia said. The modelers are always in search of wood, vegetation and inspiration for scenes.
"Everything is more interesting when you model," Revelia said.
In addition to the workshops, of course, the massive Sundance Central Modular Railroad will be on display. Two new major displays have been added: a Louisiana railroad scene dubbed Muskrat Ramble, and the Dolly Varden Mine, a logging mine/railroad scene set in the early 1900s.
Both MacKeown and Revelia lament that the painstaking nature of their hobby may not attract as many young people as they would like. But they hope this weekend's workshops will spark some interest.
"I always joke with people that the whole thing is made of duct tape," MacKeown said with a grin.