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Published: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 3:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 12:20 p.m.

MOORE -- Forty-seven years ago Herb Weiss married his high school sweetheart and began a new hobby that gave him the opportunity to be an architect, city planner and a railroad conductor.

Weiss, 67, bought a model train the day before his wedding. Since then, scale modeling has been a good way to relax after work. Now that he's retired, it's something fun to pass the time.

"He and the groomsmen sat on our living room floor and checked it out the night before we got married," said Judy Weiss, of her husband's train that he keeps on a shelf in the basement.

Herb Weiss started building tabletop models, and now his layout takes up most of their 20-foot-by-25-foot basement.

"My father said I was too old to play with trains," Weiss said of his father's reaction to his pre-wedding purchase. "I was old enough to get married, so I was able to play with trains if I wanted."

His dad died three years ago but got the chance to see how the hobby grew.

"He thought it was fine," Weiss said. "He realized that playing with trains probably wasn't the worst thing I could have done."

Weiss got his first locomotive as a kid about 60 years ago. It is also on a shelf in the basement. His current model has scenes symbolic of the town where he and Judy grew up - Sheboygan, Wis. He also has buildings and landscapes that remind him of Duluth, Minn., and Milwaukee.

Judy sometimes critiques what he does and offers tips, like how he could give rivers waves and a more realistic look by painting with popsicle sticks.

Weiss has at least 400 train cars and records information on each one that he purchases. He says models built today have more details, including sound, than his first trains. The prices have also increased over the years. He remembers spending $1.49 for a boxcar and now spends at least $35 for one.

Watching trains circle the track is only part of the fun for Weiss. Foam provides his city with grass, shrubs and treetops. He likes building the houses, hotels, factories and grain elevators that are part of the model. The buildings come in kits, and Weiss uses the parts to make his own detailed designs. He often builds models for friends, too.

"I really have to steer myself from buying more stuff," Weiss said. "That's why I like building kits for other people."

Weiss is part of a railroad group of 11 that meets monthly at each others' homes. The group has members from Tryon and Flat Rock, N.C., as well as Greenville and Greer.

Weiss also likes learning about railroad history wherever he and his wife travel, and he often looks for hobby shops when he's out of town.

"It's been on the top of his mind at all times," Judy Weiss said. "Trains have been involved with every vacation we've taken."

"She always knows where I am - by a railroad yard or in the basement," Weiss said.
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