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Meet Rich Perrelli: Sharing the joy of the hobby is better than modeling alone

By Rene Schweitzer | June 13, 2022

“We all grow when we work together”

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House, wharf, and steam locomotive in scene

Meet Rich Perrelli

How did you get started in the hobby?

Black-and-white photo of child riding hand car with dog nearby
The author’s dad acquired a small hand car and laid tracks around the back yard. Rich and his dog enjoyed many happy hours riding those rails together.

I guess it was in my blood. My grandfather was a steam locomotive mechanic, and my dad encouraged my love of trains when I was a little tyke. On warm summer evenings he would drive us to a place where the highway palled the rails, and we would chase trains until I fell asleep. He shared his Lionel trains with me, and he took me to the local library where I would read all the back issues of Model Railroader.

Entrance to a backyard garden railway
The author’s visitor-friendly garden railroad has many locations along the line for enthusiasts to inspect the abundant track side details, or to just relax and watch trains run by.

By the age of seven I promised myself that one day my model railroad would be on those pages. When I left home and became a dad myself, I built an N scale layout inside a coffee table where it would be safe from little fingers and the household cats. My young children, and those of our neighbors, loved running the little trains under glass. Those trains are still running today, but now with my grandchildren at the throttle.

What was your first large scale locomotive?

close up of model train engine shed
Since the entire railroad is near eye level and close to viewers, trackside buildings are provided with plenty of interesting details for visitors to explore.

I took notice of large scale when LGB trains began to make an appearance. I was very interested in them, but they were too European and a bit pricy for me. When Bachmann released the very American and economically priced Big Hauler sets, with the quintessential 4-6-0 locomotive, I purchased one (or two). We ran our large scale trains seasonally under the Christmas tree in our outdoor Christmas display. It wasn’t until our kids went to college that I started building an outdoor large scale railroad.

What’s your favorite part of the hobby?

House, wharf, and steam locomotive in scene
This photo of the wharf in the sleepy little fishing village on the author’s garden railroad was chosen as the winner of the 2005 Garden Railways photo contest.

I liked creating realistic looking places to run model trains – at first. Things changed when I won the 2005 Garden Railways photo contest. As a result of the publicity, I was invited to join several local garden railroad clubs. Before that I was a lone modeler. When I experienced open house garden railroad club meetings, I discovered how delightful it was to share my railroad with other enthusiasts. Ultimately my railroad was included on the layout tour for a NMRA national convention, and it was visited by people from around the country, and around the world. So sharing my railroad, my modeling experiences, and the joy of model railroading with others has become my favorite part of the hobby.

What’s your least favorite part?

I am really annoyed by locomotives running rough due to poor electrical contact. That is why I designed my garden railroad to operate with R/C, live steam or battery only. It ran that way for many years. However, one spring I helped the San Diego Garden Railroad Society build a large garden railroad exhibit for the county fair. The exhibit was a great success, and I learned much about reliable track power in the garden. So I relaxed my hard stance against it and I included a couple short lines on my garden railroad with track power for trolley and mine train back-and-forth operations. We all grow when we work together.

What has been your biggest modeling success?

Wood coffee table with N scale layout built inside
The author’s N scale coffee table first appeared in Model Railroader, January 1986 (Trackside Photos), and later in the first and second editions of The Beginners Guide to N Scale Model Railroading.

An N scale railroad that spanned three generations and a garden railroad featured on an NMRA layout tour are big successes. But I believe my biggest modeling success has been to encourage others to get out and enjoy the many facets of garden railroading. I have written many articles on the subject, and they have been published in magazines like Garden Railways (US), Garden Rail (UK), and Volldampf (Germany).

I also created a garden railroad YouTube Channel with DIY modeling tips and tricks: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLj0ENCEGV2RaMf3nqrghyw  I am always delighted to get an email or YouTube comment from someone thanking me for sharing tips, or inspiring them to build a project, or encouraging them to peruse their model railroading dreams.

What was your biggest modeling mistake?

I have made many big mistakes, like not properly recording the wire color code on my N scale railroad table. I ended up rewiring the entire layout. Another big mistake was not building a stable roadbed for my garden railroad. I needed to remove all the tracks and rebuild the entire roadbed to get things working smoothly.

Perhaps the biggest mistake I made is the culmination of missed opportunities, like the many projects that I started, but didn’t complete, open house opportunities that I didn’t participate in, and the magazine articles that I just didn’t get around to writing.

Watch a video of the author’s N scale “coffee table” layout: https://youtu.be/LjUZNlLWwVM

What advice would you give to a new hobbyist?

Man holding remote in hand, next to a garden railway
Rich has a degree in Mechanical Engineering and recently retired from the Aerospace industry. He is in charge of garden railroad construction, operation, and maintenance. His wife Ann, a retired Engineering Technician, maintains the garden, creates miniatures, and makes the graphics for posters and decals. They are members of the San Diego Garden Railroad Society and enjoy garden railroading, train meets, and riding the rails on commercial and tourist railroads. Photo by Ann Perrelli

Play with your trains! You have plenty of time to build a railroad empire. For now, lay some track and start running trains as soon as possible. I built and enjoyed several small N scale shelf top layouts before tackling the elaborate coffee table. If you don’t get to enjoy operating your railroad — as you build it — you may lose interest and your railroad may never get done. Consider joining a local club. Don’t underestimate how enjoyable it can be to share your trains with friends and family. We all need a little encouragement once in a while and they can provide it. I know mine have over the years!

Happy model railroading,

Rich Perrelli

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