Thursday, July 14, 2011

Model train lovers at home in Franklin depot

Globe Gazette: Model train lovers at home in Franklin depot
HAMPTON — A group of North Iowa men finally have a clubhouse to play with their toys in.

In January, 10 men who had HO scale trains as kids and continued the hobby as adults formed the North Central Iowa Railroad Club.

Gene Elphic, Hampton, was elected president; Joe Marchese, Dumont, was named vice president; and Jim Hansen, Hampton, secretary/treasurer.

All the guys needed was a clubhouse.

“That was a problem,” said Marchese, who admitted he has played with trains for 60 years. “They all wanted rent. We wanted to spend our money on the train layout.”

They were lucky. The Franklin County Fair had just the place for the club.

The Rock Island Depot in Hampton was moved to the fairgrounds in 1985 and renovated by the Franklin County Historical Society. A walkway and platform were laid with old brick in front of the depot.

A Semaphore communications tower was erected, rails laid and crossing signals erected. A restored caboose sits on the tracks in front of the depot. Inside are railroad artifacts, and at fair time a telegraph operator gives demonstrations.

The Fair Board had put a full basement under the structure and it was unused except to store a few items. It was dusty and full of cobwebs, but the 10 guys were elated: They had found a permanent home for their club.

“We are grateful to the Fair Board,” said Marchese. “It’s wonderful they let us in here and helped us make the needed improvements. It’s solid and offers a big room.”

Fair Board President Jon Baltes said that he saw it as a win-win for both groups.

“They have a place they can call home and the fair has a new attraction,” Baltes said. “It is something that will draw train enthusiasts to the fair.”

In April the club members started cleaning and painting and even put in a new ceiling. Then they built the tables and filled the room with track.

“People who come here during the fair will see the beginning,” said Elphic. “Track will be down and we will have four trains running. Towns, bridges and other scenery will be added.”

Hansen said the club is for HO-scale trains.

“There are larger scale trains but then your layout has to be so much bigger. HO scale is 1 to 87. An inch is a little over seven feet.”

Hansen said the dues for the club are $20 per month.

“For that amount you get access to a huge train layout,” he said,

He added that a person must be 18 years or older to join the club.

“Younger people can come,” he said, “but they have to be with a parent or guardian.”

Hansen said the clubhouse is open during the fair but at other times will be closed to the public.

“When we get things done we plan on having an open night every month when people are welcome to come and watch the trains,” he said.

Other members of the club are Brian Stevens, John Hamilton, Mike Ward, Gene Christiansen, Bob Grant, Paul Shelton and Lowell Sandin. Anyone interested in joining the club can call Elphic at 641-456-4264.

Open during the fair:

The North Central Iowa Railroad Club clubhouse is open to the public during the Franklin County Fair which runs through Sunday.

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