As soon as one enters the Nassau Lionel Operating Engineers’ (NLOE) train-a-palooza, the rumbling begins. Get ready to be immersed into an actual village.
There are people. Houses. Cars. Oil refineries. Superman is even in town, fighting crimes just up the block from—of all people—The Fonz.
The closer one gets to the tracks, the louder the chugging becomes. It’s a mixture of an action film, reality and nostalgia unlike any other on Long Island.
A 2,600-foot layout at 2953 Hempstead Tpke. in Levittown is home to one of the island’s hidden gems. This is no ordinary train club. Rather, it’s a community of 44 individuals who come together for something that others might not comprehend.
“When my son was four, my wife said there was nothing exciting about the HO (1:87 scale) trains,” Bob Trnka, president of the NLOE, said. “Little did she know what she got herself into, so I got back into Lionel. He’s 41 now, so that’s how long I’ve been collecting O-gauges.”
O-gauges, known as O-scale, are the only trains the club utilizes. The models are 1:48 scale, meaning that if multiplied by 48 times, they’re the size of the actual train they’re modeled on.
The club, founded in June of 1983, often gives back to not only Levittown, but the entire Long Island community. From volunteering at VFW events to providing entertainment at the upcoming Levittown Winter Festival on Feb. 16, the NLOE does their part to show gratitude.
“We were lucky to find a space in the basement of the North Village Green in Levittown,” Bob Soha, a founding and chartered member of the NLOE, said. “We wanted to be centrally located in Nassau County. That was our best bet.”
The club moved to the Hempstead Turnpike. location in 2000, forcing them to rebuild, essentially from scratch. There were a few parts and pieces that were salvageable, but not many. The goal was to get people to continue coming to their open houses. But they never imagined it would be as popular as it’s become.
“Once the people come in, the layout speaks for itself,” Trnka said. “We have a following. People see it and notice what we add each year. They’ve been coming back, some of them for years. It’s amazing.”
But that’s not all.
The group is officially recognized by Lionel as an ambassador. It has plenty of perks, like having the opportunity to test new models, receiving points based on the work they do to order fresh products for the entire club to use, along with receiving some posters to hang up around the club’s sky-blue walls.
“They want us to promote the hobby locally,” Walt Enderley, secretary of the NLOE, said. “They want us to do things on the island with younger families to promote model railroading, so they can eventually be a customer.”
The NLOE brings a rebuildable set to different events across the island, doing exactly what Lionel wants them to do. Thanks to a wave of fresh technology, they can bring pre-World War II trains into the 21st century.
“When we bring sets out, we have wireless controls on your phone,” Enderley said. “The kids jump right into it. They can actually run a locomotive, blow a whistle and make it talk.
It’s all on a graphical interface on a phone. It’s an old train, but it’s using cutting-edge technology to operate it.”
So you want to join the NLOE? Not so fast.
Once approved, there is a year-long probation period. The member won’t receive keys to the train village and must receive approval from the whole membership. Once officially a NLOE member, there’s an initiation fee, plus the regular dues that any other train club will have.
The next open house for the NLOE will be from March 22 to 24. The leaders of the club love to meet new members, and they’re always open for discussions about anything regarding trains.