ODESSA — It is a behemoth in the modular train business.
When it's pieced together, the Sundance Central Modular Railroad village spans 45 feet by 20 feet, with 235 feet of hand-laid aluminum rails to carry the pint-sized trains. Its creators believe this modular railroad is the largest of its kind.
It took nearly a decade for a group of small-scale modeling enthusiasts to create the Sundance Central, a miniature world complete with hand-crafted trees and weathered cars, old-fashioned billboards and hanging laundry.
And now the Sundance Central has a permanent home in Pasco.
The public can see the modular railroad and other tiny treasures at next weekend's open house of the new Suncoast Center for Fine Scale Modeling. The 7,800-square-foot facility, inside the West Pasco Industrial Park, also includes small scale models depicting everything from early pioneer life to World War II action.
"We have created something where people can come see some of the finest modeling in the world," said Dave Revelia, a retired Largo firefighter.
Revelia is one of six model train enthusiasts who have created the center and the Sundance Central. The rail city, depicting early 1900s life, takes up nearly 6,000 square feet of the former warehouse turned museum, according to retired Marine Dale MacKeown.
"We think about what we have to do and find a way to create it," said MacKeown, who lives in Brooksville.
The rail's new home base is a pleasure for Revelia, MacKeown and fellow members Frank Palmer, Keith Wolfe, Jim Hopes and Richard Schmitt, but its roots are in travel.
For years, the group has taken the mobile railway on tour to conventions around the country — and that is no small feat. At the Odessa warehouse, MacKeown, 72, shows off the crates that hold the Sundance Central when it goes on the road. It takes 15 hours to take down the rail and load it up, and five to set it up.
The detail is staggering. Some of the trees took eight hours to craft by hand. What looks like dirt is actually sawdust; and the detail is so fine that even the livestock have their own handmade dung.
"We use dripped paraffin wax and cut up straw really fine to make that," MacKeown said. "We think about what we have to do, then we invent it. We seem to be able to build (just about) anything."
The group is both excited to show off their new museum and hopeful to keep their beloved hobby alive. That can be a struggle in a world of high-tech pursuits and instant gratification. Palmer, 68, a retired surveyor and former fishing boat captain, fears small-scale models are a dying hobby.
Their group, he jokes, "goes from old farts to on up."
But the hobby has staying power because it opens the mind, Revelia said.
"It's tough to get people into it these days because the amount of hours it takes to do this work is extensive," he said. "But I get to look at life differently. Everything has more intensity. You see an old rusted water tower while you're driving and you think to yourself: How can I re-create that?"