As soon as the moving boxes were emptied, Pierre Laruelle wasted no time in tearing down a partition in his new house to set up his personal playground: a room entirely devoted to his passion for model railroading.
The scene is worthy of a making-of of a special effects film: in the center of a rural landscape the size of two bedrooms, the Saint-Jérôme railroader looks like a giant when he lifts miniature locomotives and wagons to arrange them on railways.
All around him run in serpentine innumerable railroads.
The meticulous placement of the trains instills in the room a pleasant feeling of pleasure, which, at the onset of the soft sound of idling diesels, rises to the level of excitement.
Digital controls in hand, Mr. Laruelle gently launches the machines into a row of rails, switches and level crossings. He directs them through town and countryside to a station or a seaport, located at the other end of the room, where passengers can get off and where the goods will be unloaded. From there, the trains will take the marshalling track or that of a huge rotunda garage.
All this in a playful atmosphere of bells and flashing signals.
In the middle of this bluffing decor, a 78-year-old man displays the smile of a real kid. “It’s not for children!” “, however, retorts Mr. Laruelle to all those who reduce this leisure to childish games. “The idea behind this is not just to run trains. That’s all there is around. It is to devote oneself to creating a perfect illusion, like in the cinema. »
However, the magic of miniature realism cannot operate without a good mastery of the visual arts, cabinetmaking, computer science, electrical engineering and history, adds this former artistic director of the radio station CJMS and Jean Coutu pharmacies.
“I spend time on YouTube! “, he laughs, installed in his workshop well equipped with soldering irons, fine pliers, electronics screwdriver, brushes, special drill and table saw the size of a small coffee maker.
Within arm’s reach, its library is full of technical documentation on the various machines used over time by Canadian Pacific and Canadian National. Each car and locomotive is hand painted to the specifications of the respective companies. ” Look at ! The white lines should be 4mm and the black lines 5mm,” he notes, pointing to the alternating hatched lines at the back of a locomotive.
“Everything you create on the mockup has to be scaled perfectly. You can just buy ready-made buildings on the internet. But if you really want to have fun, you can also build the universe that looks like you,” he says in front of a replica of a typical mid-20th century CP train station.
“It was in a station like this that I worked, in the Laurentians, as a train attendant when I was a student,” says Mr. Laruelle, his eyes shining.
Pierre Laruelle’s attraction to trains is not accidental, let alone trivial. His life, in fact, is punctuated with railway anecdotes.
“I was born in the Saint-Eugène-de-Grantham station, where my uncle was station master. As my father went to war shortly before I was born, my uncle offered my mother to live on the second floor of the station. I grew up surrounded by the noise of trains,” he says.
After his demobilization, Gabriel Laruelle attempted a return to civilian life before returning to uniform. He joined a body of engineers specializing in electronics, based in Longue-Pointe. His free time was spent building a chalet in Nominingue, in the Laurentians, where he also built a huge railway circuit.
“In Europe, my father had traveled a lot by train. It was part of his life. At the cottage, we built a 75-by-100-foot exterior model,” he recalls, looking at the beautiful English locomotive displayed on a shelf. “It was his. »
In the mid-1960s, during his student years, Pierre Laruelle worked as a trainman at Canadian Pacific for a few summers.
“I was sent on the Northern line, between Jean-Talon station and Mont-Laurier, and on the Montreal-Ottawa line,” he said, his head still full of nights spent on the benches, reports in 14 copies typed with one finger and railway workers as generous as they are hard at work.
Since that time, trains have remained an object of fascination for Mr. Laruelle. To him, they are marvels of engineering and design, as evidenced by the sublime photos and illustrations hung in his home. But the origin of his passion is summed up in a logo of a fictitious company, painted on a locomotive: GP Rail.
“These are our initials, to my father and me,” he slips, simply.
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