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All Aboard: V&E Of Counsel Glen Rosenbaum Shares His Passion for Model Railroads

For the last five years and counting, V&E summer associates have spent an evening outside the office venturing into a miniature world: a fabricated landscape featuring trees, cliffs and landmarks, all a fraction of their real-world size. But the main attractions are the trains: 17 motorized model locomotives, pulling 118 freight and passenger cars over 630 feet of painstakingly designed and laid track.

They all belong to Glen Rosenbaum, Of Counsel at V&E, who has been collecting model trains since childhood.

“Many little children are fascinated by trains because of their size, the noise they make, the power they exhibit,” Rosenbaum said. “Most children outgrow that fascination. I didn’t.”

Rosenbaum regularly hosts various groups of children and adults, including V&E summer associates, at his train room, a 38-foot-long space on the second floor of his mid-century Houston home. Both the train room and the house are somewhat famous: The house has been designated by the City of Houston as a Historical Landmark — one of only fifteen post World War II Houston homes having this designation. The home’s striking features — including curved walls and a sleek open floor plan — have been covered by several publications, including The New York Times. The train room has garnered the attention of a national model train magazine and several Houston-based publications.

Rosenbaum was a teenager when his parents built the house, in the Meyerland neighborhood, and renovated it before moving back as an adult. The renovations, which earned a Good Brick Award from Preservation Houston, created space for a train room befitting Rosenbaum’s impressive model collection. All of his locomotives and virtually all of his cars model prototypes that operated during his favorite railroad era, between 1945 and 1965.

“That period marked the transition from steam to diesel locomotives. It gives an opportunity to showcase the later generations of steam locomotives and the early generations of diesel locomotives, when they were, in actuality, all operating at the same time as the railroads were transitioning from one form of power to another,” he explained.

Rosenbaum’s most-prized models are his two Big Boys. During World War II the aptly named steam locomotives moved freight cars carrying heavy military equipment over mountains at elevations of over 8,000 feet.

“The design of the Big Boys was such that they could pull these long heavyweight trains across the Continental Divide without helper locomotives,” Rosenbaum said. “They were the largest, most powerful steam locomotives ever made.”

Rosenbaum’s passion for railroads is evident not just in his train collection, but in his bookshelves. Dozens of books on real trains and model trains line one side of the layout table base, which visitors are also welcomed to peruse… if, that is, they’re not already transfixed by Rosenbaum’s miniature world, which he has dubbed the Houston, Wharton and Pecos Railroad.

Built by Dallas-based TrainWorx, the layout is modeled on the Southern Pacific Transcontinental Line through Texas. The line holds a place in history as the country’s second transcontinental railroad — the right-of-way for this transcontinental line remains in use today and passes approximately 2-1/2 miles south of Rosenbaum’s home. Landmarks and buildings modeled on the layout include the Pecos River High Bridge in West Texas, the Southern Pacific Passenger Depot in Wharton, Texas, and control towers from Houston’s Englewood Yard.

The layout served as the inspiration for the Houston Museum of Natural Science holiday display, Trains Over Texas, which is now in its fourth year. After the museum’s senior management team viewed his layout, they requested Rosenbaum to place them in contact with TrainWorx, which quickly designed and built Trains Over Texas in time for the 2016 holiday season.

The museum’s layout is about three times the size of Rosenbaum’s and emphasizes Texas’ geology and physical geography. To date, Trains Over Texas has hosted over 140,000 visitors annually.

Rosenbaum’s layout, meanwhile, distinguishes itself with personal touches: models of Rosenbaum’s current home and the prior family home where he grew up also grace the landscape, as does a model boxcar bearing the Houston Grand Opera logo, complete with miniature candelabras and other opera props decorating its interior. (Rosenbaum spent two years as chairman of the opera’s board and the organization presented the boxcar — built by the opera’s props director — in appreciation.) The layout’s most whimsical feature, however, is an outhouse. An open door reveals a tiny occupant reading a Houston Grand Opera program. Rosenbaum credits his nephew Sean, an OB/GYN and amateur woodworker, with that addition.

“He just thought the layout needed an outhouse and believed the outhouse occupant should resemble his uncle,” Rosenbaum said. “Sean and I share a caustic sense of humor.”

With the exception of the outhouse and the opera car gifts, each element of the layout was meticulously planned by Rosenbaum. His approach to model trains, he said, is similar to his approach to the law.

“I try to be detailed and exacting,” he explained. “I hope you find it in my work. You’ll definitely find it in the train layout.”

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.