A model life
A local man's childhood interest in model trains developed into a talent for creating scale-model displays of buildings, including sites familiar to area residents.
Phil Wavrek grew up in Fullerton. He received his first train set on his 10th Christmas. That Lionel freight train with a double engine (powered 'A' unit and dummy [no power]) and cars jump-started a lifelong interest in model trains. The first set included the double Erie Alco engine, a Lehigh Valley hopper car, a two-domed Sunoco tank car, a stock car and a caboose. A new car to be added to the original set each year was one of Wavrek's most cherished Christmas gifts. He still owns that first train set.
Wavrek graduated from Whitehall High School, served in the military and earned an undergraduate degree from Muhlenberg College. He has worked at Johnson and Johnson, Equitable Life Insurance, Bethlehem Steel and Bosch Rexroth Corporation.
Now a Moore Township resident, he has notebooks full of information on his model train engines and cars, including specific types such as miscellaneous rolling stock – flat cars, gondolas, cabooses, tank cars, hoppers, operating cars and passenger cars. His records show he has 359 box cars.
About 25 years ago his focus changed from collecting trains to constructing model buildings. He attended a train meet at Agricultural Hall in Allentown sponsored by the Allentown Train Meet Associates where he met Myron Biggar of Nazareth. Biggar was the editor of "O-Gauge Railroading Magazine."
"He had some building kits at his table and I became very interested," Wavrek said. "I bought one and I was very delighted with the results. You can personalize the detailing of the buildings.
"I worked with the kits and then I began doing what is known as 'kit-bashing' or taking pieces from more than one kit to create new buildings. About eight to 10 years ago I started scratch-built buildings, using materials to design and construct my own building ideas. The Plastruct Company, among others, produces sheet stock simulating brick, stone, wood and other surfaces."
Wavrek has made 214 buildings, including the kits and his own design ideas. At the time of this interview, he had logged 194.1 days of work constructing buildings.
The building that took the most time from scratch is a scale replica of the Catasauqua Club, a social club with more than 100 years of history in the community. Wavrek has been a member for more than 40 years. The Catty Club replica required more than 330 hours to complete. He presented the replica to the club and it will be placed on display as soon as a protective cover can be constructed.
Wavrek is a member of and has also presented scale replicas of the Slovak Social Club (St. Andrews Jednota) of North Catasauqua and the American Legion Post home in Catasauqua. These buildings will also be on display pending construction of protective covers.
Other models he has made include Haaf Hospital in Northampton, Dent Hardware Company in Whitehall and the Fullerton school.
"If I had not become so intrigued with constructing the buildings, my train layouts would be more intricate," Wavrek said. He has four oval tracks, one of which has an 'S' curve. The train and other model buildings he has constructed are on display in the Wavrek basement year round.
All the handcrafted model buildings displayed have to do with Wavrek's life and/or interests.
Included in the display of over 352 square feet is his own creation of a "Wavrek University," consisting of two residence halls, two fraternity houses, two sorority houses, a field house, a student center, many academic buildings, an administrative center, a maintenance facility and the Marshall Memorial Chapel. His main color choices for the campus buildings are Muhlenberg's cardinal and gray.