following appeared August 31, 2007 in the
miniature train makes maiden run as part of exhibit
By Sally Apgar
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted September 1, 2007
WEST PALM BEACH - People are
waiting on the "Solar City" train platform. One is a
businessman, sporting a 1950s-era brown fedora. His gray suit jacket
hangs over his left arm and a brown briefcase dangles from his right
hand. He looks almost like he's sweating in the hot sun. A long-legged
boy in a red T-shirt and shorts is lounging on a wooden bench, hot dog
These life-like miniature figures are waiting for
the "Solar City Express," a solar-powered passenger train
that takes its maiden run today as part of a new exhibit at the South
Florida Science Museum. Visitors can run the passenger train, a cattle
and freight train or a circus train from a control panel with red and
green buttons and learn how solar energy is converted into electricity
that flows through the metal tracks to power the toy locomotives
pulling the trains.
"Florida is the Sunshine State, so it makes sense to
design the train system with solar power," said Rick Newman, a
Boca Raton businessman who serves on the museum's board and is the
idea man behind the exhibit.
"The whole layout
hearkens back to the established East Coast railroad days when train
travel was still a large part of daily transportation," said
Newman, who donated about $16,000 of the $20,000 needed to build the
Newman, who also loaned the museum his 7-foot-tall
robots and various space artifacts, including a Russian cosmonaut
suit, said that with the push for alternative energy, he wanted to
increase environmental awareness and show how solar power works. At
the same time, he wanted to do a tribute to Florida's railroad history
by building a 1950s town and showcasing trains pulled by steam
engines, which were replaced by the end of that decade with diesel and
The toy model passenger train with cars the size of
children's shoe boxes shuttles through an interactive town that
includes a row of homes with palm trees, a swank space-saucer styled
diner with miniature waitresses on roller skates, a church, factory,
ornate Palace Theater and even a traveling circus with a red big top
tent and clowns. In addition to a farm, the town also has a fire
station, general store, hardware store and liquor store. There are
more than 500 pieces including an operational Ferris wheel, railroad
crossings and a signal tower.
"Newman is the electronic whiz kid who had the
idea of converting the trains to solar power," said Bill Ryan of
RC Hobbies in Tamarac, which sells model trains. The store donated
track and steam engines to the project.
Ryan said the passenger train uses one of the
oldest passenger trains made by Aristo-Craft Trains of Irvington, NJ.
The Solar City Express includes a Pullman, observation and dining car
along with a combination car that carries both luggage and mail.
"In the era of FedEx, kids don't realize that
the mail once was carried mostly by railroad," Ryan said.
There is also a freight train carrying livestock,
metal and minerals.
Newman won every science fair he
ever entered as a child and never went to college, hopes to inspire
children about science. He has built a company, High-Tech Productions
Inc., which provides services such as converting VHS tapes to DVD's for
the military and corporate clients and designs sound, light and video
systems for nightclubs, resorts and theaters.
Once his business made cash, Newman started
collecting: robots, space artifacts (particularly Russian ones, which
are easier to procure than American ones), electric cars and now model
Carlos Santos, exhibit curator, smiles over the
tiny town as he explains how solar power works.
"The solar panels collect the sunlight and
convert it to electricity, which gets sent to the charge
controller," said Santos.
From the controller, the energy is sent to
deep-cycle batteries that store the energy and send electricity
through the train tracks to drive the electric motors inside the
locomotives. A power converter converts 12 volts DC to 110 volts AC.
In the 1950s, Bell Labs revisited a technology
invented by French scientist Edmund Becquerel, who discovered in 1839
that certain materials emit a spark of electricity when struck by
sunlight. Using silicon, Bell produced solar or
"photovoltaic" cells that could convert sunlight to
electricity. Today, those cells help to power spaceships and
A full explanation of how the solar train works is
The South Florida Science
Museum is located at:
4801 Dreher Trail N., West Palm Beach.
For more info, call 561-832-01988
or visit www.SFSM.org