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The Suburbanite
  • Postcard From Plain Township: Model railroad design business

  • Peer through the window of a storefront in Avondale Plaza in Plain Township and you might believe you’re peeking back through time at an old-time department store holiday window display.

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  • Peer through the window of a storefront in Avondale Plaza in Plain Township and you might believe you’re peeking back through time at an old-time department store holiday window display.
    Nothing says Christmas shopping like staring at a toy train.
    This train — a garden size G-scale — chugs along on track laid on a foam-topped, snow-colored table. Buildings are white, as well, and snow covers the pine cones spread around the table as decorations. Christmas trees, miniature presents, and reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are other accessories that accent the season.
    “It’s a toy train,” said James Sorenson, who has begun to operate a train design business — Far Beyond Rails — from the plaza space across from St. Michael’s Church on Fulton Drive NW. “This is what I call an abstract, a fantasy or a make-believe setup.”
    The train is set to run daily, even when Sorenson is not there. “I have it on a timer,” he explained. “It comes on at 8 in the morning and goes off at 9 at night.”
    Sorenson, who has been a model train enthusiast for much of his life, runs the business with two partners — one silent partner from Stark County and the other — Erhard Baltrusch — a skilled train layout designer from Germany.
    “In Hamburg (Germany) there’s the largest model train display in the world. It’s in a warehouse and it’s called ‘Miniatur Wunderland’ and it depicts many countries,” he explained. “Erhard was hired early on in that project and helped oversee the design and maintenance of the layout. He’s basically a rock star of model railroading.”
    Sorenson and his silent partner originally were customers of Baltrusch’s. The third partner now lives outside Tampa, Fla. near Baltrusch, who operates the Florida office of their business.
    “We have our own projects he’s working on,” said Sorenson, “and we thought there are people like us, model railroaders who need a little help, who could make use of his services. While he’s working on ours, he can work on theirs.”
    Far Beyond Rails serves a variety of customers. Residential model railroaders want a layout in their basement or yard. Commercial customers such as shopping malls might want a train display among, stores or pediatric doctors could benefit from model train layouts in their waiting rooms. Model trains at nursing homes can be interesting to residents, said Sorenson. And corporations can have model railroads customized for their home offices.
    “We can do as much or as little as you want,” said Sorenson. “Obviously, if you’re doing it for a hobby, you want to do a lot of it yourself. I wouldn’t feel very good about owning and running a train layout for which I had absolutely no input.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Assistance provided by Far Beyond Rails includes design, construction, consultation and simple advice. Sorenson said the partners hope to hold seminars in the future to educate novice model railroaders.
    Baltrusch and Sorenson design railroads after talking with clients who call the number posted on the storefront window of Far Beyond Rails, which is on the south side of Fulton Drive NW between Hills & Dales Road and Whipple Avenue. They work in all scales — from the “G-scale of the window display down to extremely small Z-scale.”
    “I say the ‘Z’ stands for ‘zany.’ You can have a train layout in your briefcase,” said Sorenson. “There’s actually an even smaller scale, T-scale. If you don’t have a briefcase you can run a layout in a cigar box.”
    Local model railroaders eventually might be enlisted to help build major layouts, Sorenson said. In the meantime, people with model trains on their minds can come to Far Beyond Rails to see a festive layout that hearkens to trains that were holiday toys.
    “People tend to think of trains at Christmas,” said Sorenson. “We want to get people thinking of trains all year long.”
    Far Beyond Rails Custom Model Railroads
    Owners: James C. Sorenson and Erhard Baltrusch
    Location: Avondale Plaza, Fulton Drive NW (across from St. Michael’s Church), Plain Township
    Phone: 330-936-0250
    Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday
    Email: jimsorenson@farbeyondrails.net
    Website: http://farbeyondrails.net