At 18 months, Jake Sussman loved train videos. In the years to come he read Thomas the Tank Engine, saw historic steam locomotives at the Smithsonian, and dreamed of building a Lionel set.
Soon after his family moved to Westport in 2007, their basement flooded. His parents — David and Lauren — built a small table for model railroads, then told him to do the rest.
He certainly did.
“This is my world,” Jake — now 17, and a junior at Forman School in Litchfield — says as walks downstairs. He shows off the astonishing HO model railroad layout he has built — track by track, train by train, tiny tree by tiny tree — over the past 5 years.
“When I got the table, my mind went crazy,” he explains. “I drew up plans. I got a subscription to Model Railroader. And I just started building.”
For his bar mitzvah, his parents gave him 6 sessions with Marc Rosenblum. The owner of HobbyTown USA in Fairfield was eager to share his passion with a rare teenager who seemed interested.
“I was 13. I had no idea what I was doing,” Jake admits. “Marc gave me tips on electrical work. Now I’ve got hundreds of feet of wire. He told me how to weather the cars and buildings, to make them look old. He taught me how to get the tracks aligned, the tunnels right, and make all the details correct.”
To say Jake’s 14 foot-by-11 foot layout (with a 4×5 extension) is “detailed” is like saying Martha Stewart thinks “homes should look nice.”
Using plaster, crumpled newspapers, paint, powder, some purchases as HobbyTown and a spectacular amount of ingenuity, Jake has crafted hills, towns, a coal mine, ruts where cars have ridden on dirt roads, smoke coming out of chimneys — an entire world that he controls with a few flicks of a switch.
“I love the feeling of watching trains disappear into the mountains, and then reappear,” he says. “When I come down here, I get lost for hours.”
He does far more than watch his trains rumble, of course. He’s always tinkering — adding a tiny figure lounging against a car here, realigning tracks to prevent derailments there. “I’m constantly looking for ways to make everything flow better,” he says.
It’s a work in progress, with 2 goals in mind. Jake wants to be the youngest person profiled in Model Railroader.
And he wants to inspire other teenagers to get into model railroading.
Why don’t more people his age do it?
“It takes a lot of time and patience,” he says. “And kids don’t want to be judged by doing something different. But I love this. I love the endorphin rush, the sense of accomplishment, and calling it my own.”
“Most kids today — adults too — want instant gratification,” Marc of HobbyTown says. “Building a train layout is a long-term thing.”
But the skills Jake needs — architecture, electrical engineering, woodworking, painting, problem-solving — last a lifetime.
This is not Jake’s only hobby. He’s captain of Forman’s cross country team, and does triathlons. Clearly, though, model railroading holds a special place in his heart.
And — besides a bit of help from Marc — Jake has done this all on his own.
“I’ve done nothing,” his father says. “It’s his venture — his working, his learning, his making mistakes and fixing them. We just support it.
“There are 2 things I want my children to have: passion and resilience. This” — his hands sweep across Jake’s painstakingly created, compellingly creative landscape — “shows he has both.”
How interesting! Well done, Jake, and congratulations for having the motivation to take the track less traveled.
Good job Jake, I like the most is the texture on the mountains it looks so real. Once again good job
Miles I. Katz age 9
GREAT! I love tracks and one of my favorite is to do when somebodys down stairs with me like in the basement
Great story, Dan, and terrific photos. Who took them?
I took the ones of Jake, “comin’ round the mountain” and the coal mine. Jake took the rest.
Fantastic story. How inspiring and what an amazing creation.
Well done, Jake! You should open this to the public. My 83-year-old father, a model railroader, would love to see your layout.
Outstanding. I was a model railroader as a lad but had given it up as I had moved on to other things at Jake’s age. I’m a once a year model railroader now, an observer of the hobby, when i make my annual trek to the January expo in West Springfield. I am struck by Jake’s sensitivity to detail and build quality. I have pored over each photo looking and looking and looking. And smiling.
I absolutely love seeing a young person following their interest with such passion and commitment – thank you for this story, Dan!
I would like to thank all of you who have read this post about my passion and hobby. This is just the beginning of turning my dream of publicizing my model railroad into a reality. The best is yet to come.
I am amazed by you Jake. I have visited Roadside America in PA on Rt 78 and have always been amazed by the attention to detail—-here we have an expert in our very own backyard. Keep up your passion!
This is so impressive and inspiring. I am awestruck at Jake’s perseverance and skills. The details and design make it so believable. I can only imagine what amazing things he will continue to accomplish.
Thanks Jason Jim
Sent from my iPhone
Nice going Jake! We’re so proud of you. Your passion and attention to detail will serve you and others well in the future – in whatever industry or profession you pursue.
Get this guy connected with Melissa and Doug. Maybe he can head their foray into train toys!!!
Melissa and Doug = toxic workplace. It would stifle Jake’s creativity
T = bitter toy maker who failed.
I don’t think they do electricity.
Awesome Jake!! Great story, thanks for posting.
Amazing! Now everyone knows what I’ve always know, you set your mind to doing something and then it. This is a remarkable story about your remarkable accomplishment, Jake. Well done.
Jake! So proud of you!
Jake I remember when, as a little boy, you would lie on the floor and play with your trains for hours on end. You showed determination then and even more so now! Congratulations on this accomplishment. You deserve to be recognized. Love your Auntie Sue.
Wow – nice!
As a fellow ….but senior citizen… modeller, I’m greatly impressed by your enthusiasm and attention to detail. Keep it up and it will give you hours of pleasure, not to mention years !!
So amazing Jake. I need to come and see this. We’ll have a photo shoot of you and I in front of the scene. (jokes)
jake – that is one tasty looking project!! I would love to see it in person some time! Brings me deep into the mountains of Apalachia.. awesome!!
Jake, what an impressive article about your passion. You’ve worked so hard and independently on your model railroad. You deserve all the kudos and future success it will give you.