BELFAST—Penobscot Falls is not a real town in Maine, but it is very much a real place in the latest 3-D artwork of artist Eric Green. It’s a train set town set in 1/48th scale surrounded by buildings, tiny people, rural settings and of course, electric trains. It was constructed in a converted-attic room on the third floor of Green’s house in Belfast. Measuring nearly 14 feet across and taking up half the room, the mill town meets the ocean.
“The town motto is ‘A drinking town with a fishing problem,’ ” said Green.
Sprawling under tracks, every single building and tiny figurine, every piece of landscape and water feature have been made by hand by Green, a process that has taken three years.
“It’s only a quarter of the way done,” he said.
His plans include lengthening the track and carving tunnels through the walls of the house so that the train can circumnavigate several rooms on the attic floor. So, it will never leave the confines of this house; if anything, it will morph into the bones of the house. Very few people will be lucky enough to see this train set in person.
This isn’t just a train set; this is Green’s childhood world set in 1956, the year Green was born, on a day in October. The trees are all turning muted yellow and orange colors. Having grown up in a mill town in Maine, Green recreated in miniature the down-and-out the buildings, the depressive atmosphere of a working town which doesn’t know that the primary engine that runs it–the mills– will eventually die out.
“This is the kind of world I grew up in, that I feel so comfortable in,” he said.
“From about the late 1920s and the 1960s there was this beautiful train equipment,” said Green. “The steam engines were masterpieces.”
In this town runs historically accurate Boston & Maine (B&M) trains, box cars, and passenger cars as they hum through tunnels and above water features on both two-foot gauge tracks which interchange with standard gauge tracks.
“I’ve always loved trains, but this place reminds me of my dad when we’d drive through the town underneath the tracks and get fresh bread from a tiny bakery, really early in the morning, when he was still sober,” said Green.
While he admits his relationship with his father was scarred, this train set and town is a tribute to the good times they had together. A column he wrote for PenBay Pilot provides much more context to he and his father’s shared hobby of building models.
“I started building train sets when I was seven years old,” he said.
It has been a lifelong hobby that he still derives deep satisfaction from.
“There are train nuts, people obsessed with trains and I think I know why,” he said. “When you’ve had a chaotic childhood, there is something calming to the relative levelness and predictability of those train tracks. I really feel good when I’m riding on railroad tracks in real life.”
There is also something soothing to making a miniature train world piece by piece, tiny building by building.
In Green’s Penobscot Falls, there is a wee diner that looks as though it’s open til 3 in the morning; an adult bookstore, a decrepit pool room, a biker bar with two choppers out front that Green had to painstakingly craft by hand. There are two train platforms, numerous brick mill building, a hangar, even a small spot down by the bay—Hobo Jungle—where Green’s miniature bums drink and tells stories over a trash fire.
“These people want to leave Penobscot Falls,” he said of his diminutive characters.
Because he is also a writer, this town is populated with tons of back stories; each character, hand-forged by him, has a purpose and they all have a reason for being there. In the diner, for example, the cook is the bent over the hot grill and the one lone man sitting there (recalling the Edward Hopper painting) is based on a White Tower hamburger spot Green had once, while riding freights across the country, tried to patronize in Minneapolis when it closed at 1am.
The trains, with one flick of a switch, come to life and the passenger cars reveal tiny people in various poses, reading, staring out the window, while the boxcars chug along through tunnels over bridges.
“This has been an obsession,” he said. “It’s a world I want to live in and every time I go up there and spend some time on it, I’m right back in that world.”
All photos courtesy and ©Eric Green.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org