Sunday, July 1, 2012

Miniature trains are track stars

From Southern Oregon Mail Tribune: Miniature trains are track stars A drive-in movie screen about the size of a napkin plays classic thrillers while a train that's 220 times smaller than its real-life counterpart passes by.

The track, built by a group called BAZ BoyZ, was one of several attractions at this year's National N-Scale Convention, being held in Medford. The tiny trees, tiny tracks and tiny trains continue to make big impressions on model train enthusiasts in the Rogue Valley.

The convention is back in Medford for the third time in its 20-year history. Medford hosted the convention in its first year, 10th year and now 20th, according to Dean Daughenbaugh, one of the convention's organizers.

About 450 people from across the United States registered for the nearly weeklong convention, Daughenbaugh said. Events include tours of local model train manufacturer Micro-Trains, contests and lectures from model train experts. The activities are primarily limited to convention attendees.

Unlike toy trains, model trains are built to scale.

One of the scales, called an N-scale, is about 160 times smaller than a real train. A Z-scale model is about 220 times smaller.

Mike Scully, a member of the Z-scale group BAZ BoyZ, said his interest in trains as a child led to his involvement in model trains seven years ago.

Scully said the group has about 12 members who live in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and cities in Southern California. They work on separate pieces and put them together to make elaborate tracks, which they showed off at the convention on Thursday.

Scully said it's difficult to find such model train fanatics in other parts of the nation. "It's something of a West Coast kind of thing," he said.

Creating model trains is also a Rogue Valley kind of thing. Southern Oregon is home to three nationally known model train manufacturers: Micro-Trains, Kadee Quality Products Co. and Campbell Scale Models.

Tony Johnson, vice president of Southern Oregon Live Steamers, said he's surprised how many people are still interested in model trains. Already this year, the Live Steamers have set up tracks at more than 100 events.

The Southern Oregon Live Steamers is one of five groups along with the city of Medford that operates the popular 49-acre Medford Railroad Park. Johnson maintains the nearly mile-long train track built by who he calls the "master mechanics" of the Live Steamers.

The pint-sized trains are pulled by steam or diesel locomotives and carry passengers around the loop.

Created in 1979 on what used to be the site of the Medford sewer plant, Johnson said the park attracted more than 30,000 people last year during the 14 days the park is open. This year, the park is well on its way to setting another record for attendance, he said.

"We kind of wonder when we're going to reach our saturation point," he said.

David Carr, member and former president of the Rogue Valley Model Railroad Club, said he's also seen more people pass through the Railroad Park.

"I am still floored at how many people come out there," he said.

Carr has worked with the Rogue Valley Model Railroad Club since 2003 to complete a replica of the Pacific and Eastern Railroad between Medford and Klamath Falls at the Railroad Park. He said it's about 60 percent complete.

Like many of the model train enthusiasts, Carr has been interested in trains since he was a child. Johnson was also interested in trains at a young age.

"I can remember my first train set when I was 4 years old," he said. "There's just something fascinating about it. I'm almost 68 years old, and I love it just as much."

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