Growing up in the railroad cusp of Perambur and Ayanavaram, Sundaram Parthasarthi was more than fascinated by trains. There were no hot wheels or fancy toy trains back then. Even if it did exist, neither his grandfather K. R Ramanujam, the first GM of Southern Railway, nor his father R Parthasarathi, Controller of Stores in Southern Railway, were willing to pamper him with these playthings. That left Sundaram with a Hobson’s Choice of making cardboard trains chug along with his self taught physics and mechanics. (Remember it was pre internet and youtube days and DIY videos hadn’t originated) Naturally drawn towards force and displacement, he pursued a degree in Mechanical engineering and kickstarted his career with Ashok Leyland. His work took him to London and it was during his stint there that his passion took the right track and at the end of the tunnel was railway modeling -a rare and expensive hobby. The interactions with fellow enthusiasts and the availability of materials and manuals made Sundaram literally hoot.
Back in Chennai he started building his own trains. Not a simple train that chugs along a circular track but around a town with tunnels and railway crossing with real signals. A ten by four feet custom made wooden platform houses his model, built from scratch and scrap. Yes you read it right….scrap. The Lamp posts with real lights were once pens. The signals along the track glowing red and green were once pen refills. Part of the foot over bridge was once a meat-safe. When components weren’t available, he built them on his own. When parts were as expensive as $25 he recreated them for as little as ₹5 and managed to produce his masterpiece – the marshalling yard set up in a 12 by 2.5 feet platform.
Now a proud owner of a passenger train and a steam engine ensconced on his terrace in Alwarpet in Chennai, Sundaram’s work is the cynosure of all eyes, especially during Navaratri when his academician wife Cecilia Sundaram has a stream of visitors at home. The charm lies in the verisimilitude sound these beauties make, thanks to sound decoders with accurate chugging and even idling, embedded in them. Sundaram yet again is self taught in coding and programmed these sound decoders. Not just the sounds he can even manipulate the speed of the trains from his laptop with digital pairing and mobile decoders.
Print outs of building outlines scaled to match his township, painstakingly painted with windows carved out and carefully stuck together to get a 3D form with LED lights fitted inside is a breathtaking sight in the night. It is akin to watching the city lights from the sky. The railway station in a 3 by 2 feet annexure with ceiling lights that cast a spotlight on the platform, the turntable that once helped steam engines change course, the water tank, the trees, the animals, the railway workers, porters, the park with swings….every single piece in this masterpiece is scaled to perfection and a work of art.
Building this track and land marvel over the years cost him around ₹3.5 Lakh. Sundaram says it is an addictive hobby and is more than willing to share his knowledge with kids. “It can’t remain a one man’s hobby….the baton has to pass on”, says the locomotive enthusiast who is willing to open his workshop to ‘train’ interested students and is open to schools bringing students for a field trip to his own ‘Rail Museum’.
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