BELFAST, Maine — In Sam and Mickey Green’s basement, model trains circle around an elaborate town that is based on a community that is very close to their home and their heart: Belfast.
In this miniature version of the midcoast city, an elephant perches atop the Colonial Theatre, a small handcrafted travel lift hoists a vessel out of the water by the Front Street Shipyard and tiny people enjoy lobster rolls outside the Must Be Nice Lobster Co.’s lunch wagon.
Look closer, though, and it’s apparent that this is not exactly the Belfast many midcoast residents are familiar with. The Green’s Belfast features a cheerfully risque element that the real city does not, including a nude man chasing a wild boar by a camping area, a strip club with a neon female figure perched on the roof and a lady flashing the passing trains.
In fact, that figurine with her shirt pulled up was the beginning of the spicy side of this model Belfast. It all started when one of their adult sons found it and gave it to Sam Green as a joke.
“That’s the thing that sent us down this naughty path,” Sam Green said.
The joke has continued over the years, Matt Green, another son, said.
“My brother and I have an unspoken competition to find the dirtiest but most tasteful things,” the 39-year-old said, adding that he is a big fan of the model train town. “I absolutely love it. We grew up with another train set in the basement, and it’s good to see it.”
He and his brother generally have to special order the special figures from Germany, which explains why there is a naked man chasing a boar. That scene is based on a real life incident from Berlin in 2020, when a nude sunbather’s laptop bag was stolen by a boar.
The bawdy elements are eye-catching, but they can’t detract from the joy and love that the Greens have poured into the model train homage to Belfast. The couple moved here six years ago from Washington, D.C., where they ran The Edit Room, Inc., a post-production studio in Georgetown. The couple worked on documentaries, including many episodes of PBS’s NOVA science series, and spent their spare time on the water.
That’s how they came to find Belfast. The Greens first visited Maine nearly 20 years ago, and liked it so much they had their boat winter over in New England. One summer, a friend from Blue Hill took them to Belfast. While Mickey Green, now 73, had lunch at the Belfast Co-op, Sam Green, 78, visited the harbormaster’s office and asked if there was a waiting list for a mooring. There wasn’t.
“That sealed the deal,” Sam Green said.
Once they moved here, it didn’t take them long to find the people, places and activities that would become the basis of their new community. Those include Come Boating!, Waterfall Arts, Chase’s Daily, Rollie’s Bar & Grill and the Local Color Art Gallery — all locales that they have memorialized in the train set, which they started working on four years ago.
It’s a wintertime hobby that serves as a creative outlet for the Greens, especially for Sam Green.
“He’s always working on something,” Mickey Green said.
There are multiple trains from different eras and a train station that looks a lot like the one that graced Belfast back in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There are also things that definitely don’t belong in the coastal Maine community, such as two rugged-looking mountains Sam Green made out of plaster cloth. The trains pass through them in tunnels.
“You can’t have a train set without mountains,” he said.
There are lights and sounds, including the recording of a Young’s Lobster Pound employee calling out order information, something that is a familiar summertime sound along the waterfront. The model waterfront is a lively place, with fishermen casting lines, an eagle diving for a fish, a tugboat, rowers in a Come Boating! Cornish pilot gig and strollers on the Armistice Bridge. There’s even a rubber ducky with the word “JOY” written on it, something they added after a giant rubber duck of the same name mysteriously appeared last August in the harbor.
Although the model train town is not widely known in Belfast, those who have seen it have been charmed, they said. And last year, when a torrential rainfall led to flooding in their basement, people were worried.
“Everyone’s comment was, ‘How’s the train?’” Mickey Green said.
It’s not hard to get lost in the miniature world the Greens have built, or to appreciate their clear affection for their home.
“I love Belfast,” Sam Green said. “I think it’s an incredible place.”
And as for the fictional seedier, spicier side of the city that is highlighted in the model train town, he laughed and recalled a quote he heard years ago from a documentarian.
“Never let the facts get in the way of a good story,” he said.