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Passion for Trains Keeps a Career on Track

Four months ago, a conceptual idea turned into the newest train set model creation by George Rice, who has been building displays since he was 11 years old. His love for trains and his passion for designing and building led him to start his career as at SEPTA more than 20 years ago.

Rice's latest train set, along with the holiday season, debuted on Black Friday at the Transit Gift Store, allowing shoppers to get a first-hand look at his train layout. The display, reminiscent of a transit commuter town with lots of stores and neighborly nuances, is sure to move passers-by into the holiday spirit.

Rice is a 22-year SEPTA veteran and currently a Transit Gift Store sales associate. "I've been building train sets since I was a kid. Being able to create something from scratch and turning an idea into an actual work of art that people can enjoy is a rewarding experience."

His love of trains comes from fond childhood memories. "When I was very young, there were railroads everywhere. I remember when out for a family drive, we would have to stop for blinking lights at a grade crossing. We would count the train cars as they went by until the caboose would appear, then we could be on our way." The holidays also remind Rice of family tradition. "My father would put up a train platform at Christmas-time which eventually led to me building my own layout when I was older."

Rice's attention to detail is impressive. His train set features several SEPTA rail vehicles, including Silverliner IV and V cars, a Market-Frankford Line Budd car and two trolley cars, surrounded by houses, retail stores and eateries - the sights and sounds of a picturesque town. It is built on an HO scale, one of the most popular scales model builders use, and showcases excellent craftsmanship, wiring and table construction. Rice's latest 4' x 6' dimensional display is covered with a glass dome for a polished look.

Rice has built dozens of models through the years, including HO, O and N scale trains and accessories. "I still have most of the models I've built,"Rice said. "I'm in the process of rebuilding my N gauge train layout and I sometimes build models as gifts for other people."

Rice shared his knowledge of train models and provided an explanation of how they are sized. The HO scale (half of O scale) doesn't require an extensive amount of space yet is large enough to show lots of detail. If space permits, a very extensive layout may be built. Other popular model scales include the N gauge, which is almost half the size of HO and is quite popular for those builders wanting a fairly detailed layout in a small amount of space. The largest popular size used today is the G scale. It's typically used in overhead displays in stores, restaurants and ice cream parlors. It's also used in "Garden Railways," displayed where there is a lot of space available, particularly outdoors. O scale is the next size and a popular scale used years ago. It still requires a fair amount of room for a decent layout. The S scale is an in-between size and not as popular. The Z gauge is very small, expensive, and yet very novel.

His career at SEPTA has been a journey that has allowed him to do what he enjoys the most. As a project engineer, he managed the design work of engineering consulting firms and construction contractors involved with bridge replacements and the rehabilitation of many other transit-related structures. In his later years at SEPTA, he also worked as a contract administrator in the Purchasing Department, managing general engineering contracts and temporary personnel contracts.

In 2006, Rice's career track enabled him to work with train sets and transit memorabilia as a sales associate at the Transit Gift Store. At that time, the existing O gauge layout in front of the Transit Store was in need of repair. Rice took everything apart and started a new layout. The track configuration and some buildings were the only pieces kept in their original form.

Rice creatively uses the parts from old layouts to form his new displays. He used pieces he built when he was a kid to add a special nostalgic touch to his current work of art. Some of the houses featured in his display were assembled out of cardboard during his childhood when he first became involved in model building. His expertise and passion for building and creating train model sets is evident.

The layout work can be very time consuming. Each component to the model is added one piece at a time. Rice built the guard rails out of macrame. He painted it silver for a realistic finish. Even the traffic lanes were created from strips of paper measured with a ruler and cut against a wood frame for precise sizing.

The work behind the finished scene is meticulous and laborious. Rice's creativity is visible throughout. "I enjoyed working on this model particularly since it will be available for all to see all year round." During his free time, he also enjoys attending rail club functions and shows with his friends.

The train set will be on display permanently in front of SEPTA's Transit Gift Store for all to enjoy.

George Rice's love of trains led him to a career with SEPTA.

Rice showcases his train model set display.

A father and son enjoy the train model display.

SEPTA trains and trolleys are featured in the display.

The tracks surround a transit commuter town.