This newspaper article by David Bell was originally published in the Columbia River Reader’s December 15, 2005 – January 14, 2006 issue. I originally posted in on my website on October 2, 2007; I had very closely replicated the original layout of the article, but it didn’t translate well into this new format.
On the cover: Cliff West (left) and Al Belanger, both of Rainier, enjoy their hobby at a meeting of the Longview-Kelso-Rainier Model Railroad Club. Photo by: DIMMICK photography
Keeping track of Trains
Twenty years ago, Cliff West heard on the radio there was a model train show at Longview’s Triangle
Mall and hustled over to see it. The Columbia & Cowlitz Model Railroad Train Club’s four members were there, manning their lone train layout. When West, who lives in Rainier, asked about joining, they said they didn’t want any new club members. By chance, however, two other men happened along, also curious about the club.
“We all three wanted to join ‘em and they turned us down,” West recalled. Instead of feeling dejected, they went to a nearby coffee shop to get acquainted and, soon after, formed what is today the Longview-Kelso-Rainier Model Railroad Club. Over the years, West estimated, about 30 people have been involved in the club, which welcomes new members and is eager to share the hobby. Not surprisingly, the Columbia & Cowlitz Model Railroad Club is long since defunct.
Since he was “old enough to know what a train was,” – about age 5 — West, now 60, has been a rail fan. “From where we lived (in Astoria),” he recalled, “you could see the railroad bridge across the bay.” As a little boy, he would watch from the window. “It came just before dinner time.” West was also drawn to railroad photography and some-times used his Dad’s camera — without permission — while his Dad was at work. Later, when the film was developed, “half the roll was pictures of trains,” taken by young Cliff.
“I got in trouble for it,” he recalled, chuckling.
The timeless allure of trains is based on many things, said Longview resident Rob Painter, 33, current president of the club. Some people are looking for friends to “talk trains” with, while others are attracted by the model-building aspect, or a simple fascination with machines and moving parts.
The cost to get started in model railroading is $100-200, West said, which “will get you a basic locomotive, a few cars, some track and a power supply.” You also need some space. Cliff West’s train room is 13 feet square, with a 16-inch wide shelf along all four walls, four feet above the floor. Not everybody has a spare room, however. What do train enthusiasts do if they live in a small house or apartment?
“That’s where the club comes in,” he said. Members each have a key and can visit the club layout on their own any time, not just on Tuesday evenings. “You can bring your toys and play.”
“At malls,” he said, “people want to see the trains going ‘round and ‘round.” But rail enthusiasts take train travel to the next level. “It’s fun to run it like a real railroad,” switching engines, sending locomotives to the engine house and re-arranging cars, based on where the train might be headed.
“If you like doing things with your hands,” West noted, “it’s a very rewarding hobby,” much like the theatre, with carpentry, wiring, scenery and track work. There is also the nostalgia of what some people consider a “bygone era,” he added, despite the fact that trains are changing with the times and constantly evolving. “Trains are not going away,” he said. When all is said and done, there’s a simple appeal for all ages, said Painter, whose 6-year-old son, Jimmy, has a Lionel set.
It’s fun to run the train.”
The Longview-Kelso-Rainier Model Railroad Club's 14- by 24-foot track layout is based on "HO" scale, 87 times smaller than actual trains.
Photos by Dimmick Photography
They choo-choo-choose to share their hobby
By David Bell
The Longview-Kelso-Rainier Model Railroad Club, open to anyone 16 and older, collects dues of $5 per month. After a 6- month probation and approval by the board, you will be a key-carrying member. Children under 16 can join if mature and accompanied by a parent. The club’s impressive 14' x 24' HO scale (87 times smaller than real trains) layout is a project that is never quite finished. Each week, members add to it, modify it, admire it, repair it, and talk about it. The layout is constructed so it can be disassembled and taken to shows and conventions.
Meetings are every Tuesday at 7 pm in the basement of the Riverside Church (former elementary school), 3rd and West “C” Street, Rainier. Visitors are welcome.
Model railroading is a hobby enjoyed by over 300,000 Americans and many thousands more throughout the world. A good book is Playing with Trains: A Passion Beyond Scale, by Sam Posey.
For more information, call Rob Painter, 360-577-8319 or Cliff West, 503-556-2407.
Pictured are five of the club's 12 current members; left to right: Cliff West, Al Peffley, Rob Painter, Doug Markhart and Al Belanger.
A Christmas Memory
By David Bell
‘Twas very early, the morning of my eighth Christmas. My younger sisters and I were peeking around the door frame into the living room, trying to be as quiet as possible, to see if Santa had actually made it down our chimney. Much to our glee, there were colorful packages where none had existed just the night before.
After what seemed like eons, Mom and Dad finally got the movie camera and the movie camera lights set up so they could record our choreographed and orderly entrance into the room. Mom handed out the presents as Dad filmed our reactions. I remember being handed the special present, which of course, was always the last one.
I had no idea what might be lurking just a few millimeters beneath the colorful wrapping. I grabbed the bow with the deftness of a samurai warrior, and in one motion, breached the wrapping, revealing the word Lionel. I sat in stunned silence. The look on my face must have made Dad smile.
We were a family of modest means and I did not let myself wish for something as wonderful as train set. I spent the rest of Christmas setting up the six-foot oval. I remember laying my head on the rug so I could look down the track as the huge locomotive bore down on me, only to turn at the last second to follow the track. I fell asleep listening to the wheels making their click-clack noise. I loved playing with that train.
It is 50 years later, and somewhere along the way I transferred my fascination with trains to airplanes, which might explain 20-plus years in the U.S. Air Force. You never lose your fascination with things, they just move into the background.
Note: David Bell retired from the U.S. Air Force after more than 20 years as an engineering technician and now works as a manufacturing technician for Intel in Aloha, Ore.. He has seven grandchildren, including 3-year old David in Portland, who will receive a wooden train set this Christmas – a gift from Grandpa Bell, whom we’re betting will find plenty of opportunities to join him in playing with it, perhaps allowing his fascination with trains to return to the foreground.