Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Roadside America": a miniature village and model railroad that treats time as a basic dimension of physics

Today, I made a reprisal visit to “Roadside America”, a miniature village and model railroad exhibit (large!) off I-78 in Shartlesville, PA, about 45 miles NE of Harrisburg.  I had visited it once before, back in 1992. The website for the attraction is here.

The project was started decades ago by Mr. Laurence T. Gieringer and his family. 

What’s interesting to me is the concept of a train running through time, as if time were itself another dimension on the layout. The “main circle” is about 1/3 the way in from the edge; it seemed to have a passenger train running counterclockwise and a coal train running clockwise when I was there. The layout is so big it is hard to trace the “graph” (in mathematical terms) of the tracks completely.  The tour progresses counterclockwise; but it one does the tour clockwise, one advances in time, roughly speaking (not always consistently). There is an “old west” town on the first corner, and diagonally across the exhibit from that is the largest town, “Fairfield”, which looks like a town of the 50s, but there are building said to have an architecture of 19th century. There is a Pioneer Village, and various other artifacts of different time eras often close together.

The exhibit also simulates night, during which it plays the “Star Spangled Banner” and then Kate Smith’s wonderful rendition of “God Bless America”.  I think that’s in public domain and can be posted on YouTube (but will I test their copyright school?)   Kate Smith’s rendition makes me think of the days of Ronald Reagan!

One of my screenplays, “Prescience”, envisions another planet where the “masters” have set up civilizations with different levels of technology, going back in time around an annular railroad (in a “termination zone” since the planet always faces the same side to its star). When the protagonist is “abducted” he wants to perform his music, which is too advanced for the “civilization” that he is sent to, but his “friends” try to smuggle him devices from other “time periods”.

In a later screenplay, I present my protagonist in a possible “afterlife”, where he finds he can travel among different time slices that are like “plates” on a ring, and a shuttle train runs among the plates. Each plate is a replica of the other in a different time zone, and moving to any particular time period presents its own issues.  One could father children in one time zone and find them grown in the next (and ready to listen to one’s composed music.)  What a bad reason to have children, to satisfy one’s own ego, perhaps!  (Can one have children in the afterlife?  Maybe people don’t even age. They call them “angels”.)

Actually, viewed from the "Appalachian Trail" loft, the exhibit reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke's novel "Rendez-vous with Rama". 

The "Roadside America" miniature village has not connection to indie motion picture distributor "Roadside Attractions", other than it is a roadside attraction. 

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