Friday, December 2, 2011

Model train show brings out childhood memories

From Princeton Eagle: Model train show brings out childhood memories

Retiree Bruno Gad arrived at the very start of last weekend’s two-day Rum River Model Railroad Club show in the Great Northern Room of the Mille Lacs County Historical Society’s Depot Center in Princeton.

Gad, a native of Chicago, smiled as he looked over some of the nine tables with model train layouts, many of the tables with multiple tracks and trains. There was also a table with a model car race track and some tables with antique toys.

This was one of the many annual Christmas holiday train shows that the Rum River Model Railroad Club has put on here, and when the show opened last Friday morning at 10 a.m., the Great Northern Room quickly filled with spectators.

Children age 12 and under got in free and there wasn’t a tally of their number. But 92 adults attended the first day and 90 the second.

You wouldn’t have had to use much imagination to guess what many of the attendees might have been thinking as they gazed intently at the model trains moving busily around on their metal tracks, making a thin buzzing sound. The layouts were generally extravagant, with a display of model landscapes and fixtures. There was varied terrain and houses, commercial buildings and even simulated working pieces of equipment. A little lumber mill, for example, was on the tabletop display owned by Lonnie Hannan of Askov.

Full-size railroad tracks are still in Askov and freight traffic frequently passes through there. The tracks once carried Great Northern passenger trains, the mountain goat logo proudly on the side as they passed through, heading north and south. People would ride it from a depot in either Askov or Sandstone frequently to the Twin Cities or could take the Empire Builder to Duluth. If they had wanted, they could ride the Great Northern all the way to Seattle.

Gad, who will be 72 in March, now lives in the Santiago area west of Princeton, but grew up on the west side of Chicago. His home there was at 2635 West 17th Street, just two blocks away from railroad tracks, he noted. He was able to command his own little railroad at age 9 when he received a model train set. He accumulated two model locomotives and 14 different model train cars.

But when he was with neighborhood friends out to play, the full-size railroad tracks were their “playground,” he recalled.

As Gad talked, Del Fuller of Ogilvie, a retired hospital x-ray technician, tinkered with his model train layout that had both HO and ON 30-gauge train sets. Fuller, who has been a model railroader for about three decades, was given a tin plate O 27-gauge model train when he was about 10 or so. “I enjoy it,” Fuller said of model railroading. He explained that it brings back childhood memories of watching full-size trains.

One of the attendees at the show on Friday was Jim Braun, of rural Princeton, there with his wife Carolyn. As they gazed at Hannan’s train layout, Braun pulled out his own model train story. One day when he was 16 or 17 and itching for some cash, he sold his prized model train set with locomotive and 50 train cars for $50. The man who bought it, later sold it for $2,500, Braun said. Trying to rationalize it all, Braun said that he probably needed the $50 badly at the time so he could buy gas to go out on dates.

Teenager, Brian Smith, one of the younger model railroaders at the show, has amassed an enviable model train collection, now owning approximately 45 model locomotives and nearly four times as many model train cars.

Smith is what nearby model railroader Fuller is hoping to see more of. The Rum River Model Railroad Club has about 14 members, according to its president, Melvin Lindquist, of rural Princeton. But Smith is looking at more than just numbers of members. “I would like to encourage young people to get involved in model railroading,” Fuller said. Not many girls, relative to the number of boys, want to get involved in this hobby, but there are some who do, Fuller said.

Lindquist, as he sat fiddling with a train set owned by friend Penny Quast, president of the Mille Lacs County Historical Society, said he was pleased with the large number of model train displays there that day. “It’s probably the biggest display to date for the club,” he said.

“It absolutely went well,” Quast said later.

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