You never know where or how old you’ll be when you catch a ride with the railroading bug.
For Tony Beecher it was as a boy in Southern California when he met Zeppo Marx, famed member of the Marx Brothers. Beecher’s father made model homes for Marx to place in his large model railroad.
“He had HO trains, which was a new gauge at the time in his entire four-car garage,” Beecher said. “He had hired scenic painters from MGM to paint his backdrops. Money was just flowing for him. After going there I told myself when I got to retirement that’s what I want to do. Build a model railroad.”
Now living in Sequim retired from a career as an audio engineer, Beecher has converted most of his garage to a model railway.
He’s one of several members of the North Olympic Peninsula Railroaders living their miniature models dreams in a big way. He and several other railroaders are offering a chance to see their efforts up close at the club’s annual Train Show & Swap Meet this Saturday and Sunday at the Sequim Prairie Grange.
It features model train railways in several sizes, a wooden train for children, giveaways, dealers and more.
You must start somewhere
While Beecher started late in life, he and other hobbyists admit it can be expensive hobby but where you start and how big you want to go all depends on you.
“The difference between my toys as a kid and the toys I’m playing with now as an adult is the cost,” Beecher said.
He started on a four feet by eight feet model layout that he built up over the years before converting a space in his garage to all things trains.
Club President Steve Stripp remembers when he was a child playing with his first set, a simple oval track that most children started on.
Michelle Kumparak, a club member, said at one point receiving a train set as a child was as synonymous as getting your first bike. While that may not be as prevalent now, she said the hobby isn’t going away anytime soon. She and her husband John Kumparak are two of the younger members of the club and make and run model trains together.
“Michelle and I aren’t retired and into reasonably priced railroading,” John said.
“There are a lot of ways railroaders can do it on a budget. One good way for me to find cars is in the club. It’s like building a network.”
The couple turned a $2 train and invested about $20 into it for a set and ran it during the Clallam County Fair. “Any kid can run it till it breaks. It’s (cheap) but fun,” John said.
Beecher said he looks for things on sale and buys some items handmade by collectors rather than just from companies because something may not work for their train layout so collectors might sell it cheaper.
Stripp said good places to look for cheaper model trains may be at estate and garage sales, online and at local stores like Pacific Rim Hobby in Port Angeles and R/C Hobby in Sequim. The Port Angeles store offers a discount to club members on trains, he said.
The range you can take the hobby is vast. Beecher is one of the club’s expert painters who likes to weatherize his trains and cars to look used.
“You phase in one thing after another,” Stripp said.
Gary Vihinen, another club member, said with the electronic age a lot of people, like him, take a lot of enjoyment using a computer program to design a track space in their home.
Partners and railways
Getting to that awe-inspiring track setup in your home can require a lot of hours by yourself, but partnerships on deals and projects isn’t uncommon and open up the hobby to more camaraderie.
Vihinen said many husbands and wives participate, like his wife who prefers to do the painting and detail work. “It works nicely and we both enjoy it,” he said.
Dick Wolf, a long-time club member, said several people in the club also lean on each other for ideas, resources and trades.
One way the club has encouraged members to come out of their depots is to work together on a portable unit they bring to the show, fair and various events in the area. They are working on a new portable unit with eight sections with the option to expand. It’s made out of a metal frame, Styrofoam, and a different kind of plaster that makes the pieces lighter while keeping the same sharp look of the previous modular units.
“We’re coming out of the dark ages of modules and making it better and newer,” Beecher said.
The club members’ goal is to make each piece a replica of a historical piece of railroading history in Clallam County. Vihinen said their hope is that it keeps a historical and professional look that could go in as a display at a site like the Sequim-Dungeness Museum and Arts Center.
Rather than painting backdrops they plan to insert historical photographs they copy from the museum and the Clallam County Historical Society.
For more information on the club, call Lauren Scrafford at 360-379-3280.