Give a man a model train and you entertain him for a day. Teach a man to build a set and you might just hook him for life.
“I spent an entire winter making all of these trees and totally ruined the carpet,” said model-maker Dave Reagan as he walked around his large, realistic-looking layout, complete with rivers, wildlife, lumber mills and a house “on fire,” surrounded by tiny model firemen. “I got 200 trees out of it and my wife got a new carpet.”
Reagan’s display was just one of many to appear Sunday at this fall’s model train show at the Spokane County Fairgrounds and Expo Center, where hundreds of people gathered to purchase new parts for their own collection, meet other enthusiasts or just gaze in awe at the craftsmanship.
Held twice a year – once in the spring and once in the fall – the event attracts hobbyists from across the Inland Northwest and beyond. Some go full steam ahead, dressing head-to-toe in rail-centric attire, ready to show off their work. Others are more low-key in their mission, looking to sell a few extra parts they’ve accrued over the years.
Vic Cherven stands firmly in the former camp. The lifelong lover of trains was wearing a blue conductor’s outfit, the word “Trainman” above the bill of his hat. He came with some members of his club, the Spokane, Panhandle and Palouse Model Railroaders Club, to show off their modular set, which could be disassembled and assembled in any way they pleased.
Each member had a “title” to accompany their role in the club. Cherven’s, as his hat would imply, was the “trainman.”
“The trainmen were the guys who slept in the sleeper cars,” the 68-year-old said. “They took care of the passengers’ needs.”
Reagan, a retired Spokane County sheriff’s deputy, said he’s been a fan of model trains since he was 6 years old and living in Florida. He’s been collecting ever since.
But it wasn’t until he met his partner-in-building, Chet Wachsmuth, at a bass-fishing tournament that he fell down the rabbit hole, he said. From November to June of this year, the two toiled away in Reagan’s basement, setting up pieces of foam board, painting train cars and houses, taking photos of northern Idaho to use as a backdrop and cobbling it all together with Elmer’s glue purchased “by the gallon.”
The result was an 8-by-40-foot set that takes three hours to set up and two hours to take down. But it has won awards – and brought a lot of smiles to faces, Reagan said.
“We do it for the ‘wow’ factor,” Reagan said. “There’s nothing like seeing a child walk by and their eyes light up. Even the big kids.”
He had a point. While it was the old folks who seemed to get a kick out of sharing their life stories and their love of trains, it was the children who showed the most excitement. When the plastic trains roared by on a set, horns blowing, tiny speakers blaring sounds of an engine churning and wheels turning, the youngsters stopped and stared.
“Grandpa, grandpa,” said 5-year-old Landon, tugging at the old man’s shirt. “A train’s coming for the crossing.”
Along the rear of the large expo space was a track as long as the wall. It was unfinished, but for this portion, the locomotive was approaching a wooden bridge over “Canyon Creek.”
“Why did the train stop?” Landon asked, a little disappointed, as the train came to a sudden halt.
“Must have been a derailment,” the model-maker said, putting the wheels back to the track.
But before he could finish, the wide-eyed boy was on to the next one.
“I can’t get him to sit still,” his grandfather Tom Carroll said. “He loves trains.”
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