GRAND MEADOW — No tickets were required to catch the trains Saturday and Sunday in Grand Meadow.
The Rail Runners Model Train Club held its annual open house last weekend, welcoming everyone, young and old, from fellow enthusiasts to those who are just curious to see their track set up, their scale-sized dioramas of small towns on the tracks, and learn from club members about the joys of model trains.
Gary Austin, one of the founding members of the group, said the club's permanent installation at the Grand Meadow Business Center is a double track, complete with scenery, a roundhouse and a helix to take trains from the two separate levels. Austin said it took them about two years when the club started just to get all the track set, get the electrical correct and make sure it all worked.
Since then, they've added some pieces along the way such as a lighted street scene complete with a Shell gas station with a rotating sign.
The setup is an HO scale track, which Austin said gives them room to create scenes around the tracks and run multiple trains at a time, which was what guests saw Saturday and Sunday during the open house.
"It's nice to have a club if you don't have room to run them in your house," Austin said.
The club also gives the members a place to socialize – they hold meetings every Wednesday, and often welcome guests, he said – exchange ideas on model trains and learn from one another.
Right now, the club has about a dozen members, Austin said, but is looking for more, including younger members. Currently, most of the members are retired or nearly so, but the club does have one member in his 20s and another in his 30s.
"Most of us had model trains or knew someone with model trains growing up," he said.
The latter category is where Dennis Vang falls. Vang bought his first model train engine in 2004 about the time he joined Rail Runners. Bu up, a neighbor had model trains, his hometown, Willmar, was a town on the Great Northern Railway. "They had a roundhouse there," he said.
Those two factors helped develop a love of trains.
When he retired, he also built a new garage at his Dodge Center home. The space was big enough to include room for an 8-by-14-foot track layout at home.
A fan of woodworking in his spare time as well, he has build many diorama scenes from scratch. He said his wife, a retired teacher, likes to help with the painting, so the hobby is something they can enjoy together.
Austin said folks like Vang are what make Rail Runners such a great club. While Vang has a skill set for woodworking, others bring a talent with electrical wiring – a must for a track setup like the club's – while others are good at planning track layouts.
They all work well together, he said.
"That's what's great about model railroading," he said. "You can get as involved as you want."