Ex-Cop's Vernon Train Layout Is A Trip Back In Time

March 27, 2024 0 By JohnValbyNation

VERNON, CT — Combine many years walking the beat and riding through Vernon as a cop and several others combing through archives as a records supervisor with a sharp talent for model building and what do we have?

Brian Smith’s train set.

The simple classification is almost an insult, because the train layout at Smith’s home in Vernon is as accurate a depiction of Downtown Rockville in the days the rail line ruled as one will find — period. It’s really an archive of history.

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Alas, he’s modest about it.

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“Yeah, I picked up a lot walking the beat for a couple of years and then in a car. We rotated assignments so I got to know the town very well,” Smith told patch in a recent phone conversation. “My interests in the hobby have changed over the years, but this layout is loosely based on a mill town.”

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Though he said the depiction “it not 100 percent and is flawed,” it’s clearly the Rockville section of Vernon. The rail lines were prominent from the 1860s to about 1970 with the final freight stop that year and the final passenger route in 1955. according to local historians.

Three of Smith’s favorite features are the Tober baseball factory, The Palace Theater and a local fire station.

One day in 2019, Smith was organizing old crime scene photos and came across one of the Tober factory. The Tober Baseball Company had moved to 114 Brooklyn St. in Rockville from Manchester in about 1954 and manufactured baseballs and softballs, according to historical records. The photo in question was taken in June 1964. Tober was also infamous for incident that reads like a crime novel, which drew Smith’s attention. The incident occurred on June 16, 1964, according to police records. An employee, Carmelo Reyes, 36 of Hartford, arrived at the workplace armed with a handgun and shot company president Meyer Tober twice, according to police records.

A 21-year-old female employee was wounded in the shooting. The shooter was disarmed and restrained by employees who held thew man until the arrival of Rockville Officer Jack Reichenbach, according to a police account of the case. Tober died two days later of a heart attack, according to police records. Reyes was subsequently convicted of manslaughter and assault, and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

In the layout, Tober looks like it did in the heyday, even though its use what changed to that of a furniture warehouse years later. It crumbled to the ground in December 2022 in a harrowing fire.

Smith said the case always fascinated him.

Smith said he based the model of The Palace on pictures he acquired from police records and friends. One of his favorite images was from 1958, when the movie “The Blob” was all the rage. The alien mass of jelly in the movie was red and the sports coupe parked outside in Smith’s model is also red. It’s the car that Rock-and-Roll Hall of Famer Gene Pitney, known as “The Rockville Rocket,” drove.

“The palace was built to scale based on the photos,” Smith said. “It’s there because Gene Pitney had his start there. The manager at The Palace, Forest Hull, took a liking to him and Gene worked and performed there.”

Smith recently took on the task of recreating The Hockanum Firehouse that was situated on West Main Street. He said he based the model on a negative he found. The truck is a replica of the 1956 Maxim 750 pumper that was used by the company.

“I found the negative when I was in the (police) records department,” Smith said. “I was able to turn it into a positive and use it for the model.”

“It’s been an ongoing process and if I live to be 100, I don’t think I’ll finish it,” the 73-year-old Smith said.

No matter what, Smith has created something for the archives.

“When a model train layout is designed, it’s often depicting switching and freight service and things like that,” Smith said. “This one is a nice tour of Rockville.”

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