BEMIDJI BONDS: Model train club still rolling along after 30 years
Beside the train tracks that cut through Bemidji, in the basement of the Great Northern Depot, is a miniature world frozen in time. Whitetail deer scatter among the hills; people frequent Main Street; cars sit idle and develop rust. The train set...
Beside the train tracks that cut through Bemidji, in the basement of the Great Northern Depot, is a miniature world frozen in time.
Whitetail deer scatter among the hills; people frequent Main Street; cars sit idle and develop rust. The train set world is a motionless throwback to bygone days - at least until Wednesday evenings, when the Northern Ironhorse Railroad Society powers up its model locomotives, tinkers with the always-under-construction landscape, brings the entire spectacle to life.
“You’re never done,” said Andy Mack, club historian and the only member who remains from the group’s 1985 founding.
“One of the members will say, ‘Let’s do this.’ So we do. It kind of takes on its own personality.”
The layout is 25 feet long, 13 feet wide. Much of the scenery is old newspaper plastered and painted. Over the years, the club has accumulated a small fortune in model buildings and model engines, the spare ones of which might find homes upon shelves or rafters. If the snaking tracks were unkinked, they would stretch a few hundred feet.
“Probably the biggest thing is the fellowship,” said longtime member Ron Dorazio. “Getting together, talking about old days when the railroads were really big.”
The club totals 14 members - mostly men over 60 and kids younger than 12. During meetings, kids run the trains. Adults supervise, work on the mechanics, or dress up the landscape.
“They don’t see the trains coming through town like we used to,” Dorazio said of today’s children. “I’m not sure they’re interested in modeling as much as they are running. They buy ready-to-run cars.”
Mack said the group is accepting new members and is unlikely to turn anyone away.
Sparking youth interest is key, Dorazio said, because “we’re not spring chickens.”
During a lull in the reminiscing, Mack grabbed a reporter’s arm.
The basement floor shook; a distant hum rose.
“That,” he said, “is a train coming by.”