William Ward of Westbrook tries out the three-rail train at the Southern Maine Model Railroad Club show Saturday. The setup was done by the Maine 3-Railers club. Chance Viles / American Journal.

If you’ve seen one model train setup you haven’t seen them all, as evidenced last weekend at the show at the Westbrook Community Center.

The Southern Maine Model Railroad Club’s show displayed the varying passions and niches within the model train realm, from realism to speed and more, organizers said.

The show, the club’s first since 2019, pulled in over 250 people, according to club member Paul Richard of Westbrook. About a dozen model train clubs along with solo operators and vendors from all over New England turned out and set up in the gymnasium and throughout the Community Center.

Some displays featured elaborate handcrafted landscapes with rolling hills crowned with realistic grass and shrubs, scale-sized houses and detailed buildings and cars.  Others focused more on the trains themselves, with multiple trains running at one time and lots of flashing lights.

The Southern Maine Model Railroad Club, a group of about 10 model train aficionados, had its own display at the show. After hours of set up an a large circle of tables, it featured tunnels, bridges and curves for numerous trains. Operators said in the middle to allow visitors to watch from the sidelines. Members were on standby in case a train derailed.

While the show was diverse, “everyone is very accepting, sharing that one common interest of trains,” Richard said.

Advertisement

Paul Richard, left, uses his personal setup in his basement with club mate and friend Patrick Walsh, right. Richard has been working on his set up for over a decade but is finally done expanding. Chance Viles / American Journal

Richard has his own setup at home and it has taken over his basement.  It’s been a work in progress for him for upward of 15 years, as he picked up trains and railroad pieces at conventions and estate sales and through websites like eBay. He couldn’t put a finger on how much money or time he has spent on it, noting that a single train can cost anywhere from $10 to hundreds of dollars.

Paul Richard said he re-built this incline three times before he was happy with it. A lot of model railroading is purely just based on what the person thinks looks good, he said, though realism is appreciated heavily. Chance Viles / American Journal

“Sometimes you will build an incline and won’t like it, so I would rebuild it three times,” he said.

Richard’s friend and fellow club member Patrick Walsh said he limits the size of his own setup in his basement, afraid it’ll take too much of his time.

“I’ve had friends come check on me to see if I was OK, spending three days down there,” Walsh said.

Both men have been into model trains since they were kids in the 1940s and ’50s, as have most of the club members. Younger people have been getting into it lately, though,  Walsh said, and shows like the one in Westbrook last weekend help draw new hobbyists.

Walsh said that in addition to promoting an appreciation for different model train sizes and styles, the shows are like “treasure hunts.”

Advertisement

“I got a few treasures this weekend. No matter what size model you are into these kinds of things always have something for you,” Walsh said.

Model train clubs are often formed around model sizes or types of rails.

The Maine 3-Railers’ display took many hours to complete over two days, member Art Shean said. It featured a number of separate rail lines, visitors were allowed to control. Chance Viles / American Journal

Art Shean, a member of the Maine 3-Railers, was at the show Saturday. That club’s niche is “O-Gauge,” models that are a few inches bigger than typical models and run on three rails.

“We run about 20-25 shows a year, building everything from scratch. Our setup has 36 buildings and 170 feet of track,” Shean said.

The setup took three members more than six hours to put together over two days, he said.

“I got into this as a young boy. Back in the ’50s, Christmas trees had model trains running around them, that was more common, and since then I have loved it,” said Shean, who creates his scenes from scratch.

Advertisement

The hills he models himself. He hand-paints the grass and places each light or decoration. The lights work because he wired them himself, lining each piece up to work in tandem giving the scene another dose of realism.

The dedication to the craft is seen in the details, Walsh said.

Modelers often use real sand and stones. Many position trees and bushes one by one and hand-paint buildings and roads. They wire their tables to power the trains and lights, then test and retest how the trains will run through the landscape.

Dwight Sturtevant displayed his N-Scale setup, which cost $400, not including the trains. He hand-painted and built many of the details, including the lights and grass. He has invested thousands of dollars in his hobby, he said at Saturday’s show. Chance Viles / American Journal

Dwight Sturtevant, a member of the Amherst Belt Lines club out of Massachusetts and a former railroad worker, was there to support his club as well as show off his personal setup for smaller N-Scale models.

He displayed seven train lines as well as train yards named after real yards, using the smaller scaling to allow more detail and trains in a smaller area.

“It’s been a work in progress, but I have it down to a science where I can set this up in 90 minutes,” he said.

Advertisement

He estimated his Saturday setup Saturday cost upward of a few thousand dollars.

“The name of the game for many people is realism,” Walsh said. “Then you have what we call operating with a purpose.”

The “purpose” operators set time limits to run a certain amount of trains to a destination in the setup. Walsh describes it more as “gaming.”

Regardless of knowledge, collection or niche, Richard said anyone with an interest is welcome to join their club, which is seeking a full-time home base. In the meantime, they look forward to more shows over the summer.

“No matter what you are into, it is a hobby that grows on you. You might walk away from it for a while, but you will come back to it,” he said. “It’s a good hobby, and you meet a lot of great people.”

To learn more about the club, visit their website or email them at [email protected]

Organizers estimate about 250 people turned out to the Southern Maine Model Railroad Club’s show at the Community Center Saturday. Chance Viles / American Journal

A Maine 3-Railer rounds a bend Saturday. Chance Viles / American Journal

A detail shot of Dwight Sturtevant’s N-Scale setup. The smaller scale allows more trains per setup. Chance Viles / American Journal

Paul Richard’s setup in his Westbrook basement includes this repair building. He added the blue lights seen under the train inside to simulate a welder repairing it. Richard said he enjoys realistic detail, but isn’t as stuck on it as other model train operators can be. Chance Viles / American Journal

Comments are not available on this story.