ELLICOTT CITY resident Frank Vacek fell in love with model trains before World War II.
His father put up a Lionel set for him when he was 9 or 10 years old.
Now Vacek works with his son, Bill, and his good friend Tom Sellers of Catonsville to create a train garden for the holidays at the B&O; Railroad Station Museum in Ellicott City.
This year, their display features eight trains moving on three levels.
The layout, which measures 25 feet by 15 feet, fills the newly renovated car house.
Vacek, his son and Sellers create a new layout each year. They focus on different track plans and finish one level at a time.
"The layout develops as we are doing it," Vacek says. "We don't do an overall plan; it never works."
They use 4-foot-by-8-foot sheets of 4-inch white insulation and connect the pieces with liquid nails.
Then they carve the structure into the shapes they desire.
They paint the structure, and add houses, displays and ornamentation brought out of storage every year.
The team got a late start this year because renovations of the car house were not finished until late September.
Vacek worked until 4 a.m. during the week before the train garden's opening Nov. 28.
He says the train garden crew "laughed about anything" -- they were so tired during the final week.
On some evenings, Vacek's grandsons Billy, 12, and Stephen, 11, worked beside their father and grandfather.
Vacek hopes to pass on his love of model trains to his family and others.
He says he often goes to the museum during the holiday season because he enjoys seeing young and old relate to the train gardens.
Those who love model trains will enjoy several other displays at the museum that feature model trains in different scales.
Don Smith, another volunteer from Catonsville, tinkers all year with the train display in the freight house.
The display depicts the first 13 miles of railroad from Baltimore to Ellicott Mills -- now known as Ellicott City.
In the telegraph office, an American Flyer train travels past ornate model houses furnished by the Christmas Company.
A large brass bell from a steam engine sits on the floor.
Youngsters can "give it a yank," says the museum's assistant director, Dave Shackelford.
The bell has been muffled to dampen its full sound.
A large model G-scale train travels around an oval track in an area landscaped for the display by Williamson's Nursery.
In one of the original station waiting rooms, adults can view a silk high hat, a kerosene lamp, a pen and inkwell and a tin pitcher and cup while their young children push buttons to make Thomas the Tank Engine and James, his friend, travel around an oval track.
Museum staff and volunteers have decorated the original living area of the freight agent and his family in the style of "Christmas 1863."
Volunteers in period clothes will answer questions and provide information about the everyday life of that time.
The museum's latest outdoor exhibit, a full-sized wooden turntable, has been installed as a static display.
It is modeled after the original turntable, a device that enabled three men to rotate a 25-ton engine 180 degrees.
When the turntable was built in 1863, supplies and troops traveled frequently from Baltimore to Ellicott Mills.
The museum will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays through Mondays, and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays.
The cost is $4 for adults; $3 for seniors and students and $2 for children younger than 12.
If you'd like to experience trains and a shopping district on a much smaller scale, consider visiting Main Street in Elkridge.
Goody's Decoys and Folk Art has a small HO model train garden in its window.
The store, which features hand-carved items by Harold Goodman, a Landsdowne resident, opened in August.
It joins two antique stores and a florist's shop on Main Street.
Goody's is "open by chance or appointment" weekdays, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The Centennial High School Parent Support Network hopes to reduce the chance of substance abuse among its students.
The network will sponsor a parent information program, "Substance Use Among CHS and Howard County Teens: A Police Perspective," at 7 tonight in the school's media center.
Cpl. Jeff Ferra and Sgt. Mark Joyce of the Howard County Police Department will discuss drug and alcohol use in Centennial and Howard County.
They will show parents how to identify drugs.
The program, the first in a series, was organized by Stan Eisenstein, one of the school's science teachers.
Other topics in the series are "The Freshman Experience" on Jan. 11, "Stress and Depression" on Feb. 8, "How to Fight Fair with Your Kids: Effective Discipline" on March 15 and "Sex and Teens" on April 19.
Call 410-313-2856 for information.
Less stress, more music
A fine way to reduce stress is to enjoy good music.
Many schools are having holiday band and chorus concerts.
The Centennial High School's Symphonic Band and Jazz Ensemble will perform Thursdayunder the direction of Max VanDerBeek.
The school's concert and chamber choirs will sing holiday music Dec. 15.
The concert will conclude with Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," during which audience members will be invited on stage.
The Orchestra and Wind Ensemble will perform a variety of orchestral pieces Dec. 16.
Albert Luo will be featured violinist in Bruch's "Violin Concerto."
Kathy Cammarata will conduct the orchestra; VanDerBeek will direct the wind ensemble.
All three concerts begin at 7: 30 p.m.
A $3 donation is requested. Call 410-313-2856.
The music department at Elkridge Landing Middle School is also preparing for the holidays.
On Tuesday, its chamber orchestra will perform at Howard Community College from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
On Dec. 16, the orchestra will perform at the Elkridge Senior Center.
On Dec. 22, the school will present its Winter Band Concert at Long Reach High School at 7: 30 p.m. On Dec. 23, its musicians will perform at the school.
The musicians have been practicing and preparing for the holiday season.
For the fourth year, band director Rebecca Braukus and choral director Chrystie Adams asked about 120 students -- members of the sixth-grade band and chorus -- to donate at least a box or can of food and $1.
The group collected more than $140 and filled 10 huge boxes with food for the community.
Eileen Gow, student teacher for the band, coordinated all the sorting and bagging of the food, and pupil personnel worker Linda Martin identified six families from the area and delivered the food to them.
Pub Date: 12/07/98