2003-05-02 / Community

Belle Harbor Resident Big On Small Trains

Contributing Editor
By Miriam Rosenberg
Belle Harbor Resident Big On Small Trains By Miriam Rosenberg Contributing Editor

Model railroader Michael Geller points out some of the features of his layout at the North Fork Bank recently.                                                         Pix by Miriam RosenbergModel railroader Michael Geller points out some of the features of his layout at the North Fork Bank recently. Pix by Miriam Rosenberg

Some may see building model trains as child’s play, but for Michael Geller it is a passion that could become a business that could gross up to half a million to million dollar.

Although he’s just now turning a life-long interest into a business, there is more to Geller than meets the eye. The 59 year-old had been a general contractor, a record executive in Los Angeles and is now a builder of custom train layouts.

Two years ago, Geller started the Mesa Verde Railroad Company; a company that builds custom-built train layouts – such as the one that was set up in North Fork Bank on Beach 116 Street recently. His new venture brings together all his experiences from his previous careers.

In fact, he does not see building train layouts as much different from his contracting business.

"I was a general contractor most of my life. This is just building on a smaller scale," said Geller as we talked sitting opposite his train layout in the bank. "This is very interesting to me. A lot of people are very interested in having layouts built for them."

His journey to his new business began at a young age when his uncles brought him Lionel Train sets as presents. When he was 13 years old he "really got into it."

"We lived in Brooklyn and had a really large basement," recalled Geller. "Every place there was space I built a train layout."

Geller’s father Sam, who dropped by during the interview, confirmed this by saying there are currently five train sets that built by his son in his 25 by 60 basement.

Around the age of 19, Geller became a general contractor at a company in New York. He was then sent to California by the company and eventually ran their Los Angeles Office. Later, on just $3000, he opened his own general contracting company called Spacemakers, on Rodeo Drive.

After a company takeover by one of his partners, a friend introduced Geller to the heir to the Hormel meat fortune, Geordie Hormel, who owned Village Recorder recording studio. Hormel gave him an office in the building and Geller’s new career in music began.

"I started a production company and convinced him to direct his studio tow­ard soundtracks instead of rock ‘n’ roll," said Geller, as he recalled.Geller used his previous experience as a contractor when the studio faced being condemned. He put together a crew, and over a two-week period he literally saved the studio.

"We remodeled the entire building to meet standards," explained Geller. Hormel repaid Geller by putting him in charge of Village Recorder, and Geller made it into a state of the art studio.

"I remodeled every inch of it and made it into a world class recording studio," Geller said proudly. "The clien­tal was Sinatra, Tina Turner and the like. That’s who worked at my studio when I ran it. It went from losing about a hundred grand a month to making about $150 grand a month under my reign."

While he was at Village Recorder, during the early 1980’s to around 1986, Geller rubbed elbow with some of the biggest names of the time. In addition to Frank Sinatra and Tina Turner, these names included Moham­med Alli, Fleetwood Mac and the group Talking Heads.

"You name somebody and they were in my studio," he said. "They fought to come to my studio. We had the best tech­nology, most famous studio, very good employees, a great name and very respected. To this day it is one to the top one, two or three studios in the country."

He then returned to New York to help with the family business. After being retired for about ten years, his brother convinced him he should start building model trains as a business. In September 2002, the Mesa Verde Railroad Company was incorporated.

His new company was already listed in Modern Railroad Magazine, the premier magazine of the industry read by the majority of the major custom railroad builders in the country.

"Things have come together for me," explained Geller. "The karma, for lack of a better word, has attracted a large group of sophisticated and talented craftsmen that work with me building layouts."

"This business has enormous wealth involved in it," said Geller. "Such people as Frank Sinatra had an enormous train layout. Neil Young actually owns [part] of Lionel Trains. Rod Stewart, when he goes on tour, takes a train layout with him. There are many, many people who are really into train layouts."

It is obvious that he enjoys what he now does.

"To see people appreciate it is what I enjoy the most," said Geller. "That’s the fun part. It is a people thing."gfc

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