TLC’s new model railroad provides a gateway to imagination 

Typical Life Corporation employee Zaine Venable has been fascinated with model trains since childhood. With the help of several TLC individuals, he built on that passion at the agency’s Loucks Road Day Program.

Chuffing down a miniature track, a Lionel train engine comes to a stop in front of a 187th-scale model of Typical Life Corporation’s York Day Program building. Staff and the individuals whom TLC serves find joy in watching the train make its rounds past a mountainous landscape and along roadways that showcase replica TLC structures.  

Zaine Venable, TLC’s Properties and Vehicles Assistant and a model railroad enthusiast, brought the miniature world of wonder to life with the help of several TLC individuals.  

A childhood curiosity

Zaine traces his fascination with model trains to his childhood. Each Christmas Eve, he would attend a party at his grandfather’s house, where a Lionel train set was nestled under the Christmas tree. Zaine was fascinated by the train and spent hours watching the electric engine travel its route.  

One Christmas Eve, when Zaine was 8, he discovered that the train set was missing from under his grandfather’s tree. Little did he know that Santa had a surprise for him the next morning — his own Lionel train set. That Christmas marked the beginning of a lifelong passion. Each year afterward, Zaine would get new train sets and pieces to add to his railroad. 

From storage to educational display 

Fast forward to 2016. Zaine, then 26, and his wife were putting up their Christmas tree.  

“She said, ‘Is there something we can put under the tree?’ I called up my mom and dad and asked if they still had it,” Zaine says.  

He went to his parents’ home and pulled out all the old train pieces from the attic, thereby reigniting his love of model trains that eventually would intersect with his career at TLC. Recognizing the therapeutic and educational potential of model railroading, Zaine began incorporating the trains into the daily lives of the TLC individuals he served. 

Zaine’s contagious love of trains began to materialize into a grand project: an intricate model railroad that features replicas of several TLC buildings, including the Loucks Road Day Program, Ryan Run, and Emigsville facilities. The project, which took six months to complete, started with a humble 4-foot-by-8-foot sheet of plywood as a platform and evolved into a dynamic landscape of miniature wonders. The process involved Zaine and the individuals at TLC, who eagerly participated in the display’s construction, creating a collaborative and inclusive experience. 

Beyond the tracks

The model railroad serves as more than just a scenic attraction; it’s a gateway to learning. From understanding AC and DC electricity to grasping wheel configurations and the intricacies of building structures, TLC clients and employees have gained a wealth of knowledge within the miniature world Zaine has crafted. 

Throughout the construction process, Zaine would travel among the TLC residences with pieces of the model railroad in the back of his truck. At each stop, he’d unload them and get help from the individuals in crafting the landscape, laying out the roads, and placing the miniature cars and people.  

His dedication and creativity remained largely under wraps until the final stages of the project. When he unveiled the completed model railroad at the Day Program, everyone was in awe.  

A gateway to imagination

For Zaine, model railroading is all about the power of imagination.  

“What these trains do is give people young and old the ability to imagine and go wherever you want to go,” he says.  

The trains inspire people to dream, to envision a world beyond the tracks.  

Zaine’s model railroad isn’t a static display; it’s a moving, evolving project. He plans to add a backdrop of clouds and sky and make the magic of the miniature world a permanent fixture at TLC’s Loucks Road Day Program. 

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