When several model railroaders get together, that’s when the childlike magic happens.
Four multi-module layouts, each representing the combined handiwork of a model train club from North Platte, Kansas, Wyoming or Colorado, delighted visitors Saturday as the National Model Railroad Association’s Nebraska West-Central Division held its 25th annual train show.
They shared the D&N Event Center floor with a handful of more compact layouts — including one for kids to try — and, of course, tables crammed with scenery pieces, track equipment and engines and train cars fully built or in kits.
“I’ve always built my engines myself and detailed them myself,” said Gene Tacey of Sutherland, area director for the NMRA division representing Nebraska’s western half. “But you don’t have to.”
Much of the craft of model railroading remains what it has been for decades, said Tacey, who worked for Nebraska Public Power District for 35 years but grew up as a Burlington railroader’s son in Osmond in northeast Nebraska.
Still, because devotees want to simulate a railroad’s actual operation, “you’re trying to make things as realistic as possible,” he said. “Modern technology has made it more possible to do that.”
For example, layouts running on standard DC power have to run their trains in the same direction. But today’s “digital command control” systems allow model railroaders to run trains in opposite directions on different tracks.
Or the same track, like Gomez Addams’ fictional dynamite-wired Lionel-gauge layout in “The Addams Family” TV series of the 1960s.
“You can have them running toward each other,” Tacey said with a twinkling eye, “so you can have real-life crashes.”
No explosions were in the offing Saturday — just a quartet of remarkably detailed multitrack routes where Union Pacific’s “armor yellow” engines and passenger cars shared space with the brightly colored “fallen flags” of defunct lines.
North Platte’s Flat Rock Trains boasted the only oversized Lionel layout, highlighted by a working model of one of Bailey Yard’s “humps” with work engines pushing cars to the top so they could roll onto the proper track for their next train.
A walk around the display revealed replicas of U.P.’s “George Bush 41” diesel engine (No. 4141), which visited North Platte in early February, and its still-operating 844 and 3985 steam engines.
Train clubs from Denver, Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Dodge City, Kansas, featured the smaller but still detailed HO gauge. Handsome late 1800s and early 1900s passenger trains ran past or alongside modern freight trains under highway overpasses, through mountain mining towns and into and out of tunnels.
Though many displays seek to duplicate or at least suggest real places, Dodge City’s Boot Hill Model Railroad Club built its layout with no specific location in mind.
“We just built whatever we wanted to and said the heck with it,” said Dennis Volk, who contributed five of his club’s eight models to its D&N display.