While the number of trains in north county has declined since the closure of Chelatchie Prairie Lumber Mill in 1979, hobbyists have found a way to keep the spirit of the rails alive.
Battle Ground model train enthusiasts such as Lee Anderson help preserve the tradition in the area.
“My dad bought me my first train set Christmas of 1941,” Anderson said. “I still got that train and it still runs.”
He’s been playing with or collecting trains ever since.
Now, Anderson’s model trains live in the shop where he has more than 1,000 feet of HO Scale model railroad running through the fictional locations of Umatilla Town and Hinkle, Oregon. HO is a rail transport modeling scale using a 1:87 scale.
Umatilla Town and Hinkle are small logging towns complete with sawmills, logyards and enough rail to get the job done.
“We can have up to 15 people here running this thing,” Anderson said.
He explained how a group can get together as some will run the train operations while others load trains with logs to be brought down to town.
Anderson started construction on his model town and railroad in 2004 after he completed building the shop it sits in as an addition to his Battle Ground home.
“This here I built first,” Anderson said, pointing to the railway turntable in the middle of the shop. “I built the room around that section.”
Anderson said he built the entire room with the help of a “few guys from the club” who continue to spend time with the track to this day. Anderson is a member of the Southwest Washington Model Railroaders club, a collection of small-scale train aficionados that started in 1972. With a motto of “have fun, learn from each other and run trains,” the club talks anything and everything about model trains, from ideas on how to run them to sharing each other’s setups.
While the club meets weekly from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Mondays at Memorial Lutheran Church in Vancouver, it is preparing for its yearly fundraiser and swap meet at Battle Ground High School on Saturday, Sept. 28.
“It’s how we keep the lights on,” said Larry Sprenkel, of the Southwest Washington Model Railroaders.
Sprenkel said he likes the camaraderie and experience that comes with the swap meet, which is expected to host more than 100 model train experts.
Sprenkel said this year’s swap meet will feature test tracks, door prizes every half hour, operating train layouts and tons of fun for the whole family. Model train lovers can expect many vendors looking to buy, sell or trade their model trains for different ones. Children and adults will have the opportunity to play with an active model track at the event.
“A big goal of ours is to get kids into the hobby, because a lot of us are older,” Sprenkel said.
The club hosts an open house along with its swap meet as a way to get people into the hobby.
This year, the club’s open house is on Saturday, Sept. 21, at Memorial Lutheran Church in Vancouver. Sprenkel said entrance to the open house is about $2 and will feature train sets, information and “a good time.”