Natrona man exposes his love of trains and his hometown
Mike Stawinski was 8 when his father, Stanly, brought home a model train he found while working for Harrison in 1965.
Stawinski, now 60, took his father’s find and made it a lifelong hobby.
A 6ft by 12ft HO scale model train can be found in his Natrona basement. The train his father found is still there in a box.
It works, but a problem with the power source keeps it from being on one of the eight running tracks that Stawinski runs daily in the winter.
“The train was an American Flyer, and I started putting it under the Christmas tree,” Stawinski said. “It all started from there.
“I started collecting buildings and everything that went with them. When I bought this house with my wife, Pamala, 30 years ago, I put it in the attic. But it was too hot up there in the summer, and I moved it down to the basement. ”
His love for railways didn’t stop with model trains.
“I had to submit 50 applications for Conrail, but I was never hired,” said Stawinski, a retired postal carrier. “I tried to get into Allegheny Ludlum on the gear lever, but that didn’t work either. ”
The exhibit pays homage to his long-standing residence in Natrona.
One of the first things you notice about the layout is a lighted sign that says “Welcome to Natrona”.
The display includes flags of the United States and Poland. Natrona’s ethnic makeup over the years is strongly of Polish origin.
It’s the details of Stawinski’s display that stand out the most. Miniature figures stand outside of businesses, while Matchbox cars fill the roads and bridges that wind around the tracks. The exhibit includes homemade rock formations and pieces of things Stawinski would find on his mail route.
“You would be surprised what people throw away,” he said.
The exhibition features buildings with names familiar to the Natrona district. The buildings have signs for the PNA Club, PRCU, and Natrona Bottling Co. on them.
Stawinski also had other brands manufactured, notably the Sisters Hotel and the “Boom Boom Club”.
“The problem with these is that I brought them downstairs with a bunch of others, but lost them,” Stawinski said with a laugh.
Train layouts were once a staple of many homes at Christmas. Some were placed under a tree, while others – like Stawinski’s – were a larger production that required a large table and enough space to show trains and HO scale homes and businesses.
“It’s hard to find these kinds of buildings and train accessories,” Stawinski said. “I bought most of my stuff from the American Family Raceway in Natrona Heights. They had it all. They could also order you whatever you needed.
“These types of places are gone,” he said. “You have to get it all online now. ”
Now that he’s retired, Stawinski spends at least 10 minutes a day driving trains in the winter. His summers are spent fishing from his pontoon boat.
Her daughters, Emily, 26, and Jessica, 23, still enjoy trains. Stawinski said they wanted to keep the tradition going in the future.
“I run the trains every day during the winter; I have time, ” he said. “Now the nieces and nephews are coming to lead them. ”
Kevin Smith is a contributing writer.