Article Courtesy of The
By Paul Catala
Published November 21, 2018
WINTER HAVEN — Since 2005, John and Robin Solebello have fired up the engines
and helped roll a bit of holiday spirit into town.
For the first 12 years, the Solebellos set up a 250-foot model railroad track
while living in Sebring. Last year, they set up a new train layout, which covers
about 3,000 square feet, in the backyard of their Winter Haven home in The
Villages at Spirit Lake neighborhood.
Beginning Thursday, the Solebellos will again open up their yard 6 to 9 p.m.
Thursdays and 3 to 7 p.m. Sundays through the holidays for the public.
The couple’s 800-square–foot model railroad track and scale model city and
countryside from 2017 is still set up. Adjacent to that, Solebello, 56, has
constructed a new layout.
Since January, the bartender and Uber and Lyft driver, has meticulously
constructed a new train layout based on fictional Walton’s Mountain, Virginia,
from the TV show “The Waltons.” Among the layout is a 12-by-25 area of mountains
made from foam, small buildings and homes, trees and about 60 miniature people
Solebello has three model trains — an 060 Switcher, 040 Switcher and 262
Livesteam — controlled by a steering system in a booth by the garage, designed
to look like a conductor’s cabin. From there, he can turn on the power for the
trains and monitor their speeds.
During a practice run Sunday, Solebello said he invested about $6,000 into the
set up just to help bring some of his childhood joy of trains to whoever wants
to stop by and visit.
“I do this just for the enjoyment of being able to share it with people and use
my creativity to make the season more joyful,” he said. “It makes me feel
satisfied and it’s the joy of giving to others.”
Other items around the track are gas stations, bookstores, a hospital, post
office, clothing store, hardware shop and restaurants. A native of Belfast,
Maine, he said the scenery also depicts scenes from there and from downtown in
“The Waltons.” The trains, track and scenery were purchased on eBay and from
model train shows; about a third of the buildings and the mountain range
Solebello made by hand.
Although it can be a tedious task setting up and positioning the train, tracks
and scenery just right, Solebello said he does it because it’s challenging but
″As long as I’m able, I’ll continue to do this each year,” said Solebello, who
grew up with four older brothers.
Cindy Martin, a neighbor of the Solebelloses who lives on Lanceolate Drive, said
she and her sons — Leo, 12 and Luke, 5 — saw the train track in 2017. She said
she thought it is great thing that John Solebello puts time, effort and money
into making the holiday season a bit more awe-inspiring and magical.
“It’s great that he takes time to do that and everyone seems to enjoy it,” she
Another neighbor in The Villages at Spirit Lake, Homeowners’ Association
President Frank Johnson, said everyone who visits seems to enjoy Solebellos’
effort and generosity. He said the model train set-up helps bring seasonal
spirit into the area.
“He mans the gate, lets people in and kids and adults love it. It’s his way to
brighten up the holidays,” he said.