The smell of model smoke, the hiss of a steam engine and the clackety-clack of boxcar wheels are something Bill Parisi of Boardman has lived with all his life. He has taken his love of model railroading and turned it into a career as well as a hobby.
Parisi, a Boardman High School class of 1966 graduate, said he has always been passionate about model railroading.
"I got my first train at Christmas in 1948," he said.
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Zachary Pflug, 8, of Boardman runs his Thomas the Tank Engine around his grandfather’s (Bill Parisi) big layout as he continues a family tradition of model railroading.
While he was too young to truly understand the shiny black American Flyer chugging around a circle of track, it was destined to be an important part of his life.
At the age of 10, his family moved to Boardman and Parisi moved from American Flyer to HO scale trains. He built big layouts in the attic and in the basement of the family's home. After graduating from Boardman, he went on to complete two years at Youngstown State University, then went into the military. All that time he continued to build and operate model trains.
"While serving in the Air Force, I continued to operate model trains," he said.
In the military it was hard to have a big layout, so Parisi switched to N-scale, often referred to as postage stamp trains. The smaller size allowed him to build layouts that could be kept under a bed.
In 1989, Parisi retired after 21 years of service. He moved back to Boardman and eventually purchased his father's home. He was told that his American Flyers were still in the attic. He operated the American Flyers for a few years, and then switched back to HO-scale, which he kept running on a large layout until 1999.
"In 1999, I saw an MTH diesel engine with digital sound control," Parisi said. "That got me into O-gauge three-rail."
Three-rail O-gauge is best known for the older Lionel trains where a third rail in the center of the track served as a power line for the large trains. The MTH (Mike's Train House) engine had digital components that offered a realistic sound.
Following the military career, Parisi went on to work for the Mahoning County MRDD for 19 years. While in this role, he valued any spare time he could get to work on his trains. His interest grew even more when he joined the newly formed Western Reserve Modular Railroad Club in 1999. The club was formed by members creating a module that would be connected to other members' modules to create a huge train layout. It was also portable, allowing for it to be set up at various venues throughout the Valley.
His passion for model railroad didn't end with joining the club though. He went on to experiment with various electronic devices and even came up with a camera car for the club. He filmed different events the club set up at and had a television that gave onlookers a chance to see the layout from the train's point of view.
Today, retired and at age 64, Parisi is finding more avenues to be involved with in the hobby. He became a part time writer-photographer for O-gauge Railroading and has had several feature articles run in it. He also joined the Mahoning Valley Railroad Heritage Association where he is helping to preserve the rich history of railroading in the Mahoning Valley. The organization is working on a railroad museum on Poland Avenue just west of Shirley Road in Youngstown.
It doesn't stop there either. Last year he was asked to be part of the Lionel Corporations repair center in Boardman. Parisi spends roughly 20 hours a week cataloging parts for the company.
As busy as he seems to be, he still enjoys a little time here and there working on another new layout in his Boardman home. The layout has the entire track in place and is now undergoing the scenery segment. It will feature two main lines with storage tracks and a large switch yard.
While Parisi enjoys his time spent on his new basement dream layout, he is not alone. He is passing the family legacy to his grandson Zachary Pflug, who helps out from time to time. Zachary has his own O-gauge Thomas the Tank Engine that he is allowed to run anytime he comes over.
"I just have to make sure the power is turned off and everything is put back when I'm done," the young railroad buff said.
Parisi said, "Zachary loves testing the trains and he is learning respect at the same time."
For the future, Parisi will continue to write train-related articles, help out at the Youngstown railroad museum, work with Lionel, and show up at the six or more shows the modular club is involved in. He may even find time to work on his own layout at home.
"Model railroading has been good to me," he said.