GALESBURG — A new railyard will be up and running here in a little more than a week.
The new yard is part of a massive HO-model train display at the Galesburg Railroad Museum. The museum opens for the season Tuesday.
Railroad Museum President Jim Clayton said the display was donated to the museum by the Gary Durbin Estate of California. Clayton said Durbin’s grandfather worked at the CB&Q pump house at Lake Bracken, retiring in 1955.
What may be dubbed the Durbin Yard, Galesburg, Ill., arrived last year in an 8-by-7-by-12-foot crate that, until recently, was stored at The Parts House.
Veteran model railroader Greg Baumgardner of Abingdon is both putting the mini slice of railroading together and, in some cases, reimagining it. The display has everything from a coal mine, to depots, to a turntable and roundhouse, as well as the yards. Baumgardner hopes to give people who have not seen these parts of Americana that relate so much to Galesburg a chance to see what it was like.
“Really what you’re doing is capturing a little bit of history,” he said.
Baumgardner said Durbin had a photo album showing what the display looked like.
“Unfortunately, he never got the chance to finish it,” Baumgardner said. “We’ve got the opportunity to finish it.”
He said Durbin was a great fan of Galesburg. There is a passenger depot marked “Galesburg, Illinois.” There is a Galesburg water tower and a newspaper office with the words, Galesburg Register-Mail, A Better Newspaper.
“The roundhouse is actually designed pretty close to what it was here, as well,” Baumgardner said.
He explained there’s “a world of difference” between model trains, which he described as what runs under a Christmas tree, to scale model railroading, which is what the addition to the Railroad Museum is. As an HO set-up, everything is scaled 1:87.
“The dimensions of the cars, the people, everything is exactly 1/87th and the goal is to reproduce as accurately as possible actual scenes,” Baumgardner said.
There is an artistic complexity to putting the tiny rail community back together. Baumgardner showed how a screen, like one from a window, is used along with drywall mud to create something akin to paper mache. What he loves is as he creates the landscape, unexpected things occur, like the formation of a ridge on the landscape below the coal mine chute.
“A lot of it is unplanned,” he said. “Over here we got a little dip, so we put in this pond. So features kind of develop themselves as you go.”
Baumgardner uses what he called “the rule of threes” in colors of the scale model train set.
“In nature, nothing is ever one color,” he said. “If you’re doing the grass, there’s three different colors blended into it. If you bring that into it, it just adds so much more. A model railroad is never completely done because you can add this, add that.”
With the almost constant sound of real train horns and freight trains rumbling past on the tracks next to the museum as a back drop, Baumgardner reached into what he called “my box of tricks,” pulling out a plastic bag of field grass, which he cut to size.
“You can add some people doing this, you can add weeds, you can add vehicles,” he said. “It’s always a work in progress.”
As Baumgardner works on the railroad, there are freight trains, as well as a Burlington Northern dome car passenger train on the tracks.
“I think we’re going to try to run all Burlington equipment,” he said.
“I’m a CB&Q brat,” Clayton, a retired railroader, said proudly.
Baumgardner said the set has the ability for five trains to run at the same time. He said there are two mainlines, so two trains will probably run — one on each line — with others in the switch yard, under the coal chutes and other locations.
“I see this, I think of the depot at Yates City,” Clayton said of one of the train stations.
Baumgardner lifted the top off the miniature depot to reveal benches inside.
He plans to put three company houses in the “grassy” area near the coal mine and maybe hide a bear in the trees near the pond, where the unaware fishermen will constantly be menaced.
“The company houses tie in with the coal mine, it gives you a story you can tell,” Baumgardner said. He added that perhaps only one person in 100 will notice the bear lurking in the trees, but that person will get enjoyment out of noticing the detail. Baumgardner wants to follow the lead used with the model train set at Sandburg Mall and have buttons visitors can push to start trains running for five minutes or so. He’d eventually like the buttons to begin a narrative about coal mining, depots, roundhouses and other parts of railroading depicted on the 8-by-12-foot layout.
Baumgardner has finished much of the coal mine area and plans to follow the track around to the roundhouse area, which includes many spaces where there’s work yet to be done.
“It will take probably a couple of years until it’s pretty well finished,” he said, although he plans to continually tinker with it.
While there is a living feel to what seems like art, there’s another reason the display seems to take on a life of its own.
“They’ve had people come in and spend hours in here,” he said of the many displays. “You’ll get some 80-year-old guy in here that worked for the coal company. The things you hear from retired coal miners, factory workers, that collective knowledge is kind of disappearing.”
“You have a gentleman come in here and he worked in the coal mines,” Clayton agreed. “He’s telling you stuff you can repeat to the next person that you never knew.”
Once the museum opens Tuesday, its season runs through September. It is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday and is closed on Monday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children, with unlimited admission with a membership. Individual memberships are $20 annually, $25 for a family. A lifetime membership is also available, for $300, with an additional $100 for a spouse.
Baumgardner said interest in all things railroad is intense.
“You go out to County 10 (bridge) right now, there’s somebody out there watching trains,” he said. “So many people live in places where they don’t have this.”