In 2013, Prudent Living Inc. (PLI) opened its Educational Train Display, measuring 24 feet by nearly 45 feet, at LaValleys Building Supply at Rte. 12-A, Colonial Plaza, West Lebanon, NH (open Monday through Saturday). The theme of the diorama, which took a team seven months to build, is: “How America Makes Energy and How We Use It.” The project’s goal is to connect an educational experience about the history of energy with the ageless fun of a train layout, all of it free to the public.
There is an instant wow factor when you see the display for the first time, which energizes the learning experience. It’s hard to believe that in this one room there are four trains looping around various sources of energy from old to the new, each of them explained by educational posters where one of the trains passes by that energy source. There are three different elevations with caves and tunnels as well as mountains and rivers, along with dinosaurs for fun. The attention to detail and scale is one of the display’s most impressive characteristics, from a dam and bridges, to rivers to “Irene’s Diner” (which is underground), to the scale model of a biomass facility. You have to see it in order to comprehend how amazing it really is.
While there was no way of predicting how much interest the diorama would generate, during the holiday season this year at times there have been long lines of people (often parents with children in tow) waiting for a chance to experience the display, which has been appropriately decorated for the season. Note this is to be “experienced,” not just viewed. Here’s what Larry Huot, owner of the LaValleys store had to say: “It is truly amazing the folks who visit every day and return to see not only what's new, but the endless details that they missed from earlier visits. Come see why educators bring their students to expose how hillsides and history transitions energy from creation to consumption. Find out what inspires older folks to frequently visit the Prudent Living Train where they will remember the earlier days of trains and communities, while taking away insights to continuing progress creating and conserving energy. This is an action-packed scaled journey by train that leads viewers for a scenic ride or an educational experience. The Prudent Living Train is a realistic art-form that unites the ages, inspires discovery, creates smiles, and lasting memory to all with an educational experience for most.
“Whether you are interested in building science and learning the leading and best ways to build; have a passion for trains, or just simply want a relaxing visit to the museum with a special child, you are sure to be in ‘Awe’ when seeing this. This is another ‘Gem’ in the Upper Valley. We have visitors every day who leave with smiles and are deeply impressed. It's unbelievable. You've got to see and experience all this is.”
President of the company, and visionary of the “training project,” Paul Biebel, says, “The train project brings me a great deal of satisfaction for several reasons. When I see young children enjoying it, I feel like that alone made it worth doing. But I am also fulfilled when I see them look beyond the trains and begin to understand our message of hope for a brighter future that applies to adults and kids, alike. Hope like this takes root as viewers can see what energy independence could mean and that it can be achieved. Whenever we can combine pleasure with education and positive solutions come out, everybody wins. That’s the kind of thing I held my breath on during the many months of construction.”
In 2014, after the first part of the display was completed, it was upgraded using a hi-definition mural of the New York City (NYC) skyline and about twenty inches of floor space along a corridor wall. At both ends, where we had a little more space to work with, we created a turnaround loop so the three lines could travel in both directions and imitate subways, trolleys, and the elevated train systems that we see in our cities. Biebel said, “I also had fun breaking a few rules, like locating the Pennsylvania Station in NYC. I don’t know why I like doing that kind of thing, but I just do. Perhaps it’s ‘artist’s license’ to see if anyone notices. Oh yeah, ‘King Kong’ and ‘Godzilla’ also have a little fun of their own while ‘The Joker’ laments behind bars about his frivolous approach to consuming energy on a billboard that says: ‘The joke was on me, you don’t need to be a prisoner to high energy costs!’”
The reason for the upgrade, Paul explained, was: “A big missing element of how we use energy in America involves our nation’s metropolitan areas. At first glance, one is tempted to blame our cities for being the biggest energy pigs. That’s true and false at the same time. It’s true because most of our nation’s consumption of energy occurs in our cities. But our cities are also the most efficient consumers of energy when you divide the amount of energy consumed by the number of people consuming it (i.e. per capita energy consumption). By comparison, rural areas consume close to 50 percent more energy per capita than densely populated cities. For example, 75 percent of NYC residents do not own a vehicle, choosing to either walk or ride mass transit to their destinations. In the countryside, many family units have three or more vehicles running the roads for very long distances every day.”
At Prudent Living Inc., we envision elementary school class tours as well as evening classes where we will explain the benefits and challenges that face every form of energy we use. Our objective is not to make political statements of any kind but to simply encourage sustainable strategies in such a way as to achieve the goals of energy independence and environmental stability.
Why did we do this? “Because it’s time.” It’s time someone initiated a movement focused on education and encouragement related to prudent living. We have.
It’s time someone became a “go to” source for answers to questions related to renewable energy and custom built high-performance or even net-zero energy homes.
Note: If you are unable to visit the display in person, PLI has produced a video (which can be accessed online at: http://prudentliving.com/train/) that gives viewers a “ride” via miniature cameras mounted on the main train.