L-5’s Nickolas helps run railroad museum

Bill Nickolas displays the locomotive and coal car from his 1950 Scout Lionel train set.

Trains, history have been lifelong passion

BILL NICKOLAS, 62, owns more than 50 locomotive engines and hundreds of rail cars. No, he’s not a railroad tycoon — he’s a hobbyist who has drawn upon his love of miniature trains and local history to help create a railroad museum in Oswego, N.Y., near his hometown of Scriba.

A 30-year construction Boilermaker who worked primarily on power plants, Nickolas retired out of Local 175 (Oswego) in 2003. The lodge was consolidated last year with Local 5 (New York). Nickolas’ father was a Boilermaker, and two of his sons, Daniel and Paul, are active members of Local 5.

“I got my first train — a Lionel Scout set — in 1950 when I was five years old,” said Nickolas. “I still have it.” Over the years, he accumulated dozens of other train sets, in various track gauges. Nickolas and other enthusiasts in the Oswego Valley Railroad Association long dreamed of starting a museum to remind people of the rich railroading history of central New York. That opportunity came in 2007 when the city of Oswego made space available in one of its buildings.

“We created a 24-ft x 32-ft historical layout depicting parts of the city,” said Nickolas. “We used civil engineering drawings and building floor plans. It’s pretty much to scale.”

Oswego was once a thriving industrial center crisscrossed by railroad tracks, he said. “They built the hulls of Sherman tanks here during World War II. There were lots of boiler shops and coal docks. We had the biggest coal pile in the world in the 1950s. People today don’t realize what an industrial powerhouse Oswego used to be.”

In addition to the historical layout, the museum includes many railroad artifacts, photographs, displays, and running train models.

Local 5 is a shop, railroad, shipyard, and construction lodge chartered in 1962.