Model-train club's outreach is on track

Open house exposes young, old to hobby

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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photoElizabeth Castanon of Vancouver and her daughter, Adriana, 10, get a closer look at a passing train during the Southwest Washington Model Railroaders open house at their clubhouse on Saturday.

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If you go

• What: Great Train Swap Meet

• When: 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 13

• Where: Hudson’s Bay High School commons, 1206 E. Reserve St., Vancouver

• Cost: $5 adult admission, $2 student admission, under 6 for free; $15 for a swap table

• Information:swwamodelrailroaders.com

photoSouthwest Washington Model Railroaders hold an open house at their clubhouse on Saturday.

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photoFine details go into an exhibit at the Southwest Washington Model Railroaders clubhouse.

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photoZac Casanover, 4, waves at a passing train during the Southwest Washington Model Railroaders open house at their clubhouse on Saturday.

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photoAdriana Castanon, 10, of Vancouver, gets a closer look at a passing train during the Southwest Washington Model Railroaders open house at their clubhouse on Saturday.

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photoA model train rumbles through a miniature town during the Southwest Washington Model Railroaders open house Saturday.

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Sporting a railroad engineer's cap, Zachary Casahover, 4, of Battle Ground perched on his stroller to peek over the acrylic glass protecting the Southwest Washington Model Railroaders' railroad layout. He watched, enraptured by the scene of miniature trains, tiny enough to suit a colony of ants, speeding along rail lines, whistling and huffing.

"He's just like a fanatic," said Zachary's grandmother Sue Skinner. "He could stay here and look at this all day. Me and my daughter would like to get going."

Zachary wasn't the only train fanatic at the model railroad club's annual open house at Safe Harbor Church of the Nazarene in East Vancouver.

Hundreds of model train enthusiasts -- from Clark County and farther out along the West Coast, including British Columbia, Canada -- converged on the club's small outbuilding at the church to see the club's collection of trains of every time and technology.

"Kids don't grow up; their toys just get more expensive," quipped model-train enthusiast Peter Gilbertson of Vancouver Island, Canada. The club's open house Saturday was just one stop on Gilbertson's West Coast model-train road trip. He and his wife, Cheryl, planned to continue south Saturday to Medford, Ore., to see a steam-powered model train demonstration. Their next stop would be Sacramento for the California State Railroad Museum and then, San Diego for another train show.

Models on display included Thomas the Tank Engine and a train with a miniature camera in the front seat. The footage broadcast on a TV screen mounted on the wall allowed viewers to feel what it would be like to be the train's engineer.

Trains can be interesting to history buffs, but they also appeal to people interested in technology, said Vancouver resident Bill Wheeler, club vice-president.

"Bells and whistles are literal in this hobby, plus squeaks, clinks and hissing air," said club member Gary Bergeson of Ridgefield.

The club's 40 members range in age from 10 to their 80s, said Vancouver resident Rick Wedrick, club president.

"Our No. 1 goal is to have fun," Wheeler said. "All of us have an interest in model railroading. We kind of pool skills. Some do electrical work, some do scenery, and some repair tracks and cars. We can have a better layout because we all work together."

Only about 20 percent of the members have or had careers associated with a railroad, Wedrick said.

Bergeson, for example, is a retired insurance agent.

"I always wanted to be an engineer," Bergeson said. "I got my first train when I was 4. My grandfather worked for the railroad. My uncle was a railroad hobbyist."

A laundry list of positive associations with the railroad helped instill his love of model trains. Trains illustrate amazing technology, and it's one of the most ecology-friendly modes of transportation, he said.

"When I was a kid in Eastern Oregon, my grandma came to visit us on the train," he recalled. "My grandfather worked for Union Pacific and then Railway Express Agency (the equivalent of today's UPS). Unlike many railroad workers, he got to keep his job during the Great Depression. As result, my mother and uncle got to go to college when many others didn't."

The club meets every Monday at 7 p.m. behind Safe Harbor Church of the Nazarene, 8100 E. Mill Plain Blvd. Membership is $10 per month or $100 per year, but visitors are welcome, Wedrick said.

The open house has been held the last Saturday of each September for the past 20 years. Last year, about 400 people passed through the exhibit.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Trends; http://facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com.