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Steve Landwehr – STAFF WRITER

by Webmaster on June 22nd, 2009

Everyone’s life has a story. In “Lives,” we tell some of the stories about North Shore people who have died recently. “Lives” runs Mondays in The Salem News.

SWAMPSCOTT � Hobbyists of any ilk run the gamut from dabblers to devotees. Armand “Jack” Palleschi was one of the latter.

His fascination with all things railroad began when his kid brother, Ray, got him to cut through the cemetery in Swampscott to watch the Talgo trains the Boston and Maine was running between Boston and Portsmouth, N.H.

Both boys were smitten, and as adults, vacation destinations became places like Antonito, Colo., home of the historic Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Weeknights, they assembled HO gauge model railroad cars, locomotives, and the scale-model stores, industrial centers and other additions to model railroad layouts that make them more realistic.

And every Friday night, they could be found at the controls of the model trains they and their friends built.

Ray lost the man he called his business partner, brother and best friend on Wednesday, June 10, after Jack had a massive cerebral hemorrhage while standing outside a convenience store. He was 66.

That leaves Ray with some unfinished business, but more about that later.

Jack was born in Winchester on March 1, 1943. By the time he graduated from St. John the Evangelist Grammar School in Swampscott, the family had moved to the seaside town, into the house previously owned by Jack’s grandparents.

Swampscott High followed, then the Wentworth Institute of Technology, where he obtained a degree in electrical engineering. That left him with at least one skill that would be valued by fellow modelers.

“He taught me how to solder the right way,” said Harvey Robinson, who first met Jack 45 years ago.

“He was very good with wiring,” Ray said.

Jack’s interest in railroading took off after high school, and the brothers soon joined the Broken and Mangled Operators club founded by former Swampscott firefighter Al Lalime in the 1950s.

The Friday night tradition of operating trains began in Lalime’s basement, but today it’s a round-robin affair with club members taking turns hosting the weekly get-togethers.

“It’s really more of a social club,” Robinson said. Maybe, but to this day the members try to run their miniature railroads just like real ones.

“You don’t just put a train on the tracks and see how fast it can go,” Ray said.

About 20 years ago, the club started holding an annual RailRun, a weekend of intense running of a string of layouts.

“We call it operate ’til you drop,” Ray joked. Enthusiasts from as far away as Minnesota attended this year. Ray says club members don’t mind strangers operating their toys, but they do watch for undesirable behavior.

“They don’t get invited back,” Ray said.

Rolling stock

In 1981, Jack bought a van that had been converted to a motor home, and the brothers began their long-distance “rail fanning,” as some people call it.

There were four trips to see the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad, others to the Durango and Silverton and to Gibbon Junction, Neb., where Ray says as many as 187 trains a day pass through.

When the trips first started, Jack was recording them on a Super 8 camera, then a Super 8 with sound, then a video camera and more recently a digital camera.

“He always loved to do that,” Ray said.

The brothers, who lived in their grandparents’ old home since moving to Swampscott, also owned a condo in North Carolina, where they were surrounded by places to indulge their other hobby, golfing.

Jack was also known for his green thumb and the meticulous care he took of his lawn.

There was one thing missing in all this.

Remember all those Friday night get-togethers with fellow train enthusiasts? Jack and Ray never hosted a single one.

All those plastic railroad cars and scale-model cafes with scale-model people eating at scale-model tables? Jack and Ray built them for other people’s layouts.

Their home is small, and the cellar gets wet. They never had their own layout.

That was changing. Last year, they began converting one stall of their two-car garage into fit space for a layout and were hard at work putting together their own railroad, which they were calling the Eastern Eagle and Condor.

Ray says he’ll have to finish it himself once things settle down again, but you sense some of the fun has gone out of it.

Staff writer Steve Landwehr can be reached at 978-338-2660 or

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