All Proceeds Will Benefit Bridgeport Challenger League

By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor

The miniature “Field of Dreams” in the model is representative of this year’s beneficiary of the raffle’s proceeds – the Bridgeport Challenger League!

While some may assume that model railroading is a “man thing”, implying that it is a pastime for adult males only, they would be wrong.

It is actually recreational fun for people of all ages, genders and lifestyles. Would you believe that at some point in their lives, people like Winston Churchill, Tom Brokaw, Walt Disney, Merle Haggard, Tom Hanks, Elton John, Michael Jordan, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart have all been avid model railroaders, finding both excitement and awe in train modeling?

Michael Baher, owner of Mountain State Pack & Ship, located in Simpson Square in Bridgeport, is not uncomfortable admitting that he too is an enthusiastic railfan – or “train buff”, as they are typically called.

“I’ve had trains ever since I was a kid.  My dad got me started on this when I was young and our family lived in Germany.  I am still passionate about it; it developed into a love that I simply never outgrew,” Baher said.

While some dabble in the hobby just for the sake of enjoyment (which Baher admits to), he also has a secondary purpose for constructing an impressive display each year before Christmas.  It has become a tradition at Mountain State Pack & Ship to hold a holiday raffle for one of his extraordinary model displays, the proceeds of which all are donated to a charity!

It’s a win-win situation for him.  He gets to play with trains … and then they are gone and he can start something new next year!  And, a local worthwhile charity reaps the benefits!

The display is very realistic … with a river running near the track.

“Each year we choose a different charity and we now restrict our choice to something right here in the local area,” he explained.  “Those who support my business are all local people, so I want it to be a local organization that benefits from the raffle.  That way the money stays right here within the area.  That’s my way of giving back to those who support me as opposed to donating to a national charity.”

Baher himself chooses the worthwhile organization and then centers the theme of his display according to what the organization does and who it helps.  In the past, he has donated to Project Healing Waters and the display focused on fishermen.  The Humane Society has also benefited from one of the raffles and that display had a cat/dog theme.  This year’s proceeds will benefit the Bridgeport Challenger League which allows mentally and physically challenged children to play baseball.  So as you might expect, this year’s model is a small town with a baseball field.

“Mike Martin, owner of Bridgeport Physical Therapy, heads up the Challenger League here in Bridgeport and just does a tremendous job,” Baher stated.  “It was started in 2003 and has grown immensely.  Those eligible to participate range in age from 5 to 25, and they now have eight separate teams with a total of 100 participants who receive this help in teaching them how to play baseball – despite their challenges.  I think that is certainly worthy of supporting and I’m happy to see that group receive this year’s raffle proceeds.”

The model display is not a small undertaking!  It measures 3 ft. by 4 ft. and sits on a wood base.  If you visit Mountain State Pack & Ship, you can see the display as it progresses and begins to take shape.   When it is far enough along, he keeps it running all day long, giving visitors to his business something else to look at.

“I actually begin working on it by mid-October, and it truly is a work in progress right up until the drawing!” he continued.  “We – myself and my employees – work on it a little bit each day, and often by the end of November, we think it’s about done.  But, I have some pretty creative people who work here with me and so we find ourselves adding a little touch here and there.  Sometimes we’re still adding things right up until the drawing!”

He described this year’s display as representing a small town with a railroad depot, a farm, a small horse stable, some other buildings, a baseball field (of course!), and a mountain.  You’ll find spectators sitting in the stands and team members playing on the field … along with a farmer fixing his tractor.   And let’s not forget the train – both passenger cars and freight cars.   A couple of months from the starting gate to the finish line … many hours of work … and approximately a $500 investment … and the project finishes in time to truly “make” someone’s Christmas!

This scale model captures every essence of a small town and is sure to bring delight to one happy winner!

Ticket purchasers range in age from young adults to those 90 years old.  Baher said, “One year a gentleman purchased $100 worth of tickets, and one day his wife came in and bought just one ticket.  She won!  But her husband wasn’t too disappointed; it was his Christmas gift!”

Baher does not reimburse himself in any way for the expense of the items used to construct each year’s model.  He says that is his contribution.  Sometimes the raffle brings in $1,000 and often much more.

“There have been times that people come into our store looking to buy raffle tickets in early November!  The supportive interest often depends on what the charity is. And sometimes the charity really promotes the raffle and that brings a little more attention too,” he noted.

Tickets are $10 each and are available both at Mountain State Pack & Ship and at Bridgeport Physical Therapy.  The drawing will be held at 5 p.m. on December 23rd.

Building a model railway’s location exactly to scale and making it realistic is always a bit of a challenge, requiring technical skills, some woodworking skills, some wiring skills, and certainly some artistry!

Baher concluded, “I’ve had some employees say they have absolutely no interest in model railways, yet they always seem to be taken with it and become active participants in its development!  It’s a great team effort and nice because everyone can offer their suggestions, their talents, and we can work on different aspects at the same time.  It’s a great adventure, a journey, and the best part is it’s not only fun, but it never fails to awe those who look at it!”