North and South battle again
West Milford's Joe Luberto channels his love of history into an amazing diorama of the First Battle of Bull Run
BY GINNY PRIVITAR
WEST MILFORD — Joe Luberto is a history buff. He doesn't just read about history, though. He is recreating it - starting with the Civil War's First Battle of Bull Run - in miniature.
He has a diorama of the battlefield — a model representing a scene with three-dimensional figures and realistic landscape — set up in his Bald Eagle Common home with authentic details. He's researched information and photos of the battlefield and recreated all of the geographic details: mountains, trees, the Bull Run River and Sudly Ford. He added roads and a bridge and he's even made miniatures of the buildings in the area, including the Henry Hill house, the Thorburns house and the Sudly Church.
Luberto has hand-painted miniature soldiers from the regiments in the battle. It's a sight to see. And, together with a friend, he plays war games, replaying the battle as it evolved over time and space.
History and gamesLuberto used to belong to the Revolutionary War re-enactors of the 4th New York Regiment. He tells an amusing story about how he got involved. He was living in River Edge at the time, near the von Steuben House, named for the Revolutionary War general. One day, he said, he heard banging and guns going off. He went over to investigate and talked to some of the guys. He was so impressed, he joined and started performing with them in 1976, during the United States' bicentennial. The group traveled all around the northeast doing reenactments in Maine, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island and New Jersey. Sometimes, he said, the battles involved thousands of participants.
He and another member of the group, Bill Brown, who lived nearby in Bergenfield, started to play board and "bookshelf" war games - games packed in a box that look like a book. They played one titled "1776" and another called "Panzer Blitz," but eventually tired of them and decided to look for something new. They found a store on 33rd and 5th Ave. in New York called "The Complete Strategist" which had hundreds of games covering different war periods.
"It was unbelievable. It would blow your mind," said Luberto, who is retired from Nabisco after a 28-year career in sales.
One day, the two friends heard a guy screaming in the back room, Luberto tells it. When they investigated, they saw men playing with miniatures on a huge table.
"They had cavalry, artillery, and infantry; there were beautiful painted figures and they were fighting a battle from the Napoleonic Wars," Luberto said.
The friends visited the store again and this time, the players were fighting a Civil War battle and lent them some figures.
They were hooked.
Both bought figures they painted, with Luberto doing the Union soldiers and his friend painting and playing the Confederate side. There are various sets of rules to play by, including "fire and fury" and "stars and bars," Luberto said.
"They're a little complicated," he added.
Miniatures in the familyLuberto, who also one time served as captain and fire inspector on the River Edge Fire Department, isn't the only one in the family with a connection to miniatures. His wife of 47 years, Cherlyn, has a family history. Her grandparents built the "Roadside America" attraction in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania in 1935. It is a train layout billed as the "world's greatest miniature village." One of Cherlyn's cousins now runs the operation.
The Lubertos have two daughters, Jennifer and Dawn, and two grandchildren, Alyse, 7, and Mackenzie, 5. Their granddaughters, though, aren't into miniatures like their grandpa.
"They're more into dolls and girlie stuff," he said.
Sharing his hobbyThese days, Luberto shares his hobby with another friend, Adrian Thurstans, and his son Avery. They try to get together once a month and fight a battle. Sometimes they switch sides. He's still painting some of the figures; each regiment is represented by 12 figures on the miniature battlefield, and it takes a week to paint each group.
But he doesn't mind. To him, it's a fun and absorbing hobby and it keeps him out of trouble.
"It keeps me out of the go-go bar," he quipped.
When he's not creating battlefields, Luberto reads, plays chess and plays cards with friends.
For those interested in that First Battle of Bull Run, known as Battle of First Manassas by the Confederates, it was fought on July 21, 1861, just north of the city of Manassas, in Prince William County, Virginia, and was the first major battle of the American Civil War.
"My purpose is to play one battle and after that set up another battle," Luberto said. "It will take a long time."
Editor's Note: Luberto would love to share his diorama and knowledge of the Civil War with Scouts or other interested groups. Contact him at 973-506-4751.
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