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Welcome to Constance, a southern Ohio town frozen in the mid-1950s.

Trains barrel through the woodsy landscape, where firemen spend a lazy afternoon playing horseshoes, boys ride their bikes to a nearby pop machine and a young couple embraces for the neighborhood to see.

To Craig Sonnen, his miniature town -- about 12 feet long -- is booming with its lumber and tile industries.

"Southern Ohio used to be a prosperous area," said Sonnen, 58, of Grove City. "Of course, all of that has changed now."

Sonnen's fictional town was part of a flourishing backdrop created by members of the Central Ohio N-Trak, a local model railroad club. Their circular track, about 78 feet long, was on display yesterday at the Great Train Expo, a traveling railroad show at the state fairgrounds.

The event continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.

Kids were perched on their dads' shoulders or clutched their mothers' hands as they milled through the festivities yesterday. Crowds swelled around train displays, including one made of Legos. About 60 dealers from across the country sold items, including rare finds.

While the trains are a lure for kids, adults said the backdrops and scenery are a highlight for them.

Jesse Reinhardt, 60, of Orient, studied the detail of the Central Ohio N-Trak club's display, taking pictures to help him as he starts designing a set.

"The detail is as good as real," he said.

Creating a setting can be a challenge, especially for those who haven't done it before, said Dave Lindsey, president of the Central Ohio N-Trak club.

"Sometimes, people go out and buy sets, but when they bring it home, they don't know what to do with it," Lindsey said.

To help, hobbyists held demonstrations yesterday on scenery design, from "weathering" minted cars to make them realistic to creating pine trees from wire and rope.

Sonnen spent a year on his display. Many of the buildings -- houses, churches, trailers and shops -- were part of kits. But he used plastic plates to make homes.

"You can do everything in model railing," said Sonnen, secretary of the local N-Track group. He has been a fan since he was 3 years old.

"It's not just racing cars in a circle. It's creating a whole environment where trains run through."

But for 4-year-old Zane Ryan-Hart, the trains were the main attraction. He sat on his father's shoulders, hypnotized by the charging of the locomotive. The two have attended the annual train expo for several years.

"I'm not sure how he came about liking trains," said dad Scott Ryan-Hart, 33, of Clintonville. "For him, it's like coming home."

As for Dad's favorite part of the event?

"I really enjoy just watching him," he said.

For information about the Great Train Expo, go to www.trainexpoinc.com.
 
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