BRATTLEBORO -- Growing up in New Hampshire, Doug Cox owned the first edition of a book titled "36 Miles of Trouble: The Story of the West River Railroad."
Now a successful violin maker in West Brattleboro, Cox plans to use his craftsmanship to recreate in painstaking detail the long-defunct Vermont railway that captivated him as a boy.
It’s a large-scale, ambitious modeling project that Cox also envisions as an educational tool and a work of art.
"I think of a lot of this as stage-set design," he said. "How do you tell the story?"
Cox expects to explore that question Saturday during a 3:30 p.m. presentation at Townshend’s town hall on Route 30. The presentation will include the first module in the West River Railroad model, a depiction of Newfane’s station.
As a way to get the project started, Cox asked Bill Banta -- owner of Banta Modelworks in Dummerston -- to create that scene.
"I hired Bill to build this module as a dramatization of how we can capture the feel of that time and place," Cox said.
Banta’s piece -- currently on display at Windham County Historical Society’s museum on Route 30 in Newfane -- includes more than a train, buildings and landscape: The place is populated with boys fishing in a stream, men gathered round an outdoor fire, horses grazing by a rock wall and beekeepers tending to stacked white boxes.
"I always put lots of stories in," Banta said.
That’s also how Cox envisions the larger model. He has the space roughly sketched out in his basement, expecting to construct an 8-foot by 28-foot set made up of modules that can be shifted in and out.
"This corner here is where the Dummerston granite quarry will be modeled," Cox said, pointing to one end of the setup.
Dummerston granite was among the products carried on the West River Railroad, which opened in 1880 as a narrow-gauge track from Brattleboro to South Londonderry.
The line was converted to standard gauge in 1905 and, for a time, it was an important transportation corridor in southeastern Vermont. It was also known as a somewhat dangerous stretch of track where trains wrecked -- hence, the "36 miles of trouble" label.
The West River Railroad declined in the late 1920s and early 1930s; by the late 1930s, most track was gone. So Cox wants to focus on 1920, a time he calls "the late height of popularity" for the route.
"You not only pick a year. You pick a time of year," he said. "In this case, it’s summer."
He has been conducting research and expects the model to convey a rich portrait of Vermont in the early 20th century.
"In order to model something well, you have to understand what its function is," he said, adding that he wants "something that would duplicate the feel, the landscape, the society and the economy" of the area.
That adds up to a lot of work, and Cox is hoping he can connect with other modeling enthusiasts who might pitch in.
However, he added that "It’s got to be fun. It allows you the opportunity to play and to make mistakes."
It’s also a labor that will reconnect Cox with a childhood interest that he believes led to his career. He recalls that the Boston & Maine Railroad crossed his family’s farm and made a big impression on the imagination of a boy who was discovering a passion for modeling and craftsmanship.
"My older brother had an American Flyer train set. There’s something about making things go and run around on tracks that seems to be universally fascinating," Cox said. "I can draw a direct line from that to my decision to study violin making."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.