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December 15, 2015 • Headline News
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Model Train Club shows off elaborate train displays

Mary Mattingly

One of the toys of yesteryear often seen circling under a sparkling tree on Christmas morning has fell by the wayside. Seems video games and electronic gadgets have replaced what was once a Christmas staple in a young child’s list of wants, the electric train. However, the appeal of the miniature train that can ride the oiled tracks through plastic make-shift towns and styrofoam mountains continues today.

The Southeastern Indiana Model Train Club has brought this toy of yesteryear alive. An extensive train display encompasses a former church sanctuary in Rising Sun, now called Heritage Hall. The 15-member club has put together 14 displays to entertain and educate children and their families. Their mission is to educate the public about model railroading and how trains affected everyone’s lives throughout history.

Model train display in Rising SunMARY MATTINGLY PHOTO
Conductor Bernie Wallick shows how the model train works with conductors Charlie White and Steve Nanni behind him. The model train club’s display is open at Heritage Hall in downtown Rising Sun.

Conductor “Choo-choo” Charlie White is one of the active members who spent much of the fall setting up the displays. The train show rolled in Nov. 21 in downtown Rising Sun on Main Street in Heritage Hall, and will stay there until Jan. 3. Many school children and visitors have stopped at this “depot” downtown to tour the trains. When they come in (it’s easy to spot because here is a huge float of an old fashioned train that took first place in two local parades out front) they’ll hear the whistles, the bells and the whirr of the engines. Heritage Hall is no longer a quiet place, just as a railyard back in the day wasn’t either. These “0” trains don’t just circle, but criss-cross and weave around miniature buildings reminisce of an era gone by. One of the 14 displays has over 80 feet of track, Choo-choo White says. These are O scale trains, which refers to their size. The Z scale is tinier-- matchbox car size--others like a G scale is 16 inches. The O scale has experienced a surge in popularity among hobbyists. Some of the buildings surrounding the tracks look a lot like the old Sinclair station in Rising Sun. White said their ambition is to duplicate 12 city blocks of the 1960s, including the old school.

These model train displays demand more than just a passing glance, otherwise you’ll miss the intricate detail. For example, “Rail Ballast” Bernie Wallick, another club member and conductor, points out the giraffe popping out from the box car prior to the tunnel. Then there’s the miniature firefighter dropping from the fire pole in the fire house as the garage door lifts open. “It probably gets the most attention,” he said. “Kids just love it.” The pretty rotating carousel is another miniature that deserves scrutiny. Seems there are not just pretty ponies going up and down, but a rooster, reindeer, a rabbit and a dog, to name a few. On another display, trains go by and crossing arms lift and fire engines pull out of garages. His own display though is one many from the rural area could relate to, an agricultural scene, with a combine and corn grain fields, and a gravel pit, for the model train to roll by.

The model club’s goal this year is 4,000 visitors; last year they had 2,500 but they’ve advertised much more in the region, from Greensburg to Carrolton, Ky this year. “We’ve had a constant flow of people,” White said. Ripley Crossing residents visited, as did school children from Cave Hill Academy in Versailles. Boy and girl scouts, and youth groups have come to view what the fuss is all about. They generally do not leave disappointed.

One display is a replica of the popular book/movie “Polar Express.” Then there’s Thomas the Train, the only one operated remotely by battery. Children are allowed to try it, moving the levers for it to go in reverse or speeding it up. “The little ones really like the displays. Some have to be dragged out of here!” said White. White, the youngest of 10 children, never had a train set when he was a kid, but his wife surprised him with one on Christmas when he was 38 years old. That’s what hooked him on his hobby. Ironically, Rising Sun is one of the few towns in the area that did not have a real train come through or stop back in the day.

The SE Model Train Club members comb websites, store and hobbyists for model train engines and pieces. Linville’s in Batesville is one of those, and the owner actually sold his holiday train display and tracks to the group. For $700, he included an electronic billboard, another one of those features you don’t want to miss. White said model trains can be an expensive hobby, figuring one set would be around $500. Seventy percent of their collection is loaned from a member. They also apply for grants to pay for repairs and add to the collection. The members recently dismantled a 7’ by 16’ L-shaped display that had to be cut in seven places to get it out of the donor’s basement.

The club is happy to share their hobby, particularly at this time of year. It’s their gift to the community, the conductors say. The display is open 11 to 4 daily except on Wednesdays. Admission is $1 per person, or $5 for a family. There is free admission for service men and women, the police, firefighters, rescue workers, and children under five.

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