Wildwood O-Guage Layout

Larry Lillo ~ Holly Beach Train Depot

Nostalgia…the longing for a certain place or time. Being a nostalgic person is not required to happily discover yourself transported back in time to an old familiar memory. Often it is triggered by something out of the ordinary, an old photo, movie, smell or place you haven’t visited in a while. For some, however, a walk down memory lane is available to them every day.

For Larry Lillo, who stands behind the counter in his store, the Holly Beach Train Depot, that wistful feeling that only the past can inspire greets him daily. There, he is surrounded by shelves of trains and other models, books, and photographs. Outside his front door, he doesn’t just see the stores of today standing there, but every store that ever was since his childhood in the 50s and 60s. He remembers it all. Larry doesn’t have to take a trip or look through old photos to feel nostalgic; simply peering out his windows reminds him of a very different Pacific Avenue, a stark contrast to the Pacific Avenue of today.

For Larry, the past is never forgotten. Blessed with an amazing memory, he can look at any building and tell you the history of that building and all of the businesses and families that owned them from the 50s until the present day.

It is this very memory that set Larry to work on an O Gauge train layout, 1/43 scale, of Wildwood, circa the 1945-1969 Doo Wop Era. The town is completely created from his memory, on a 30 feet long platform, with additional layouts on both sides featuring NYC, Philadelphia, and Cape May County, with two trains running around the ceiling.  He began his Wildwood-inspired creation around 2010 when his first grandson Lance was 4 or 5 years old, setting up his workshop on the 2nd floor, just above his train shop where he grew up.

Larry has fond memories of his childhood on Pacific Ave. “It was a great place to grow up. In the 50s and 60s, this is where you wanted to live” Larry smiles and laughs. “We lived Happy Days, that show could have been set here. We had the Fonzies and Joanies.”

Larry starts each building by using plastic model building fronts. His creativity and resourcefulness know no bounds. He conjures up all sorts of ideas to make each place take its

own unique shape. His attention to detail is incredible! He adds grass, trees, pools, and people

sitting on benches and riding bicycles down the boardwalk. He even cuts out old

advertisements to make the signs. 

Upon entering, the first building sure to catch your eye is the Hereford Lighthouse, the island’s

first structure, where there is a train entering the island next to it, running all the way to Two

Mile Landing where it loops around, exactly as Larry remembers it. You’ll see the trestle bridge

and train entering through West Wildwood, the WCMC radio towers and the WWII Lookout Towers, one in North Wildwood and one in Wildwood Crest. You’ll recognize boardwalk shops like Douglass, Ho-Jos, SnoWhite, Daugers Waffles and stands like the Shooting Gallery and even the Fortune Teller along with the obnoxious Dunk Tank guy on Sportland Pier. You’ll spot the Rainbow Club, Gansers Bakery, Piro’s, Otten’s Harbor and Canal and of course, the Shell Shop and Moore’s Inlet Patio Bar.

When asked how he honed his craft, Larry said, “I never did anything like this before and I don’t really know how I do it… it just comes to me as I’m doing it.”

Much of his unique works of art was accomplished during the pandemic. He loves to come on Sunday mornings after church and his bike ride, enjoying the peace and quiet.

Within that calm, creative space, Larry loses all sense of time and takes a trip down memory lane, his favorite place to travel.

These days, with all of his grandchildren in sports activities as well as various projects around his house, it’s not always easy to find the time to work on his Wildwood.

As Larry well knows, sharing memories with other people is a wonderful gift, as well as finding someone who shares the same memories as you. Remembering the past keeps it alive and familiar, much like peering out your window connects you with all that is occurring today.

Holly Beach, an Authorized Lionel Dealer, is a full-service train store, with repairs an integral part of the business. You’ll find everything you need to build a layout there, including scenery materials, cars, trucks, people, track, and trees, available in a wide variety. 

Holly Beach Train Depot is open every day during the holiday season, so be sure to stop by where you’re destined to enjoy a trip back in Wildwood time… (see ad on p. 14)

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