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Model trains: Consistent enjoymentTell North Platte what you think
Photo by Beverly Merrick
Scale sizes
Photo by Beverly Merrick
Model railroad classification yard
Photo by Beverly Merrick
Gene Tacey
Photo by Beverly Merrick
Bryan Walz watches his model of a Hump in operation.

Most Nebraska towns would not be here if it weren’t for trains, said Gene Tacey, the director of the Nebraska West Central Division of the National Model Railroad Association.

Tacey joined hundreds of model train enthusiasts from the region April 12-13 at the model train show at the North Platte D&N Center.  

Tacey said many Nebraska towns are 10-12 miles apart because in the 1880s and 1890s, that was as far as you could go by wagon. The trains stopped at each town, delivering supplies for farms, ranches and stores.

At the weekend show, tots watched six exhibits of trains moving on the rails through a countryside that was built to scale. On the other end of the age spectrum, octogenarians laboriously constructed and then oversaw detailed model train yards.

Tacey said he got his first train -- a Lionel engine -- when he was a year old. He has been close to trains ever since.

“I played with it (his first train) until the wheels fell off,” he said. “The only hiatus was when I was going to serve in the Navy. Then I rode the train.”

A retired electrician, Tacey worked for the Nebraska Public Power District for 35 years.

He said he was “conned” into the avocation of model trains by a train enthusiast from Lincoln. But he apparently did not need much persuasion. His chest is covered with proof-of-service hobby labels.

He and his model train volunteers have presented a train show in North Platte for two decades, including one tiring, trying year as the organizers of a national model train convention. During those decades, the North Platte train show has weathered two April blizzards, plus a third blizzard Sunday afternoon.

A model train enthusiast knows unique things about trains, citing from memory that the Union Pacific Big Boy, a 4-8-8-4 steam engine out of Sherman, Wyo., could climb the steepest grade because of its wheel alignment.

One of the first railway models was the American Flyer, on S scale, 1:64 the size of an actual train.

Now, train models go down in size from a G scale with a ratio at 1:32, to a Z scale with a ratio of 1:220. Hobbyists keep an eye on standardization of train parts for model trains (O scale ratio, 1:48; TT scale, 1:120; N scale, 1:160).

On hand at the show was Eldon Walters, who recommends a starter kit of HO (1:87) for those new to the hobby for two reasons -- price and popularity. He said it will lead to fun and lots of family enjoyment.

Walters spent the weekend at the show playing with Bryan Walz’s model train of a hump yard, as well as the entire miniature layout of a real train yard. Walz won Best of Show, garnering the most votes of weekend visitors to the show.

Model train enthusiasts know how many coal trains now drive the industry and note that no longer do coal trains run in length to 220 cars. The so-called Supertrains had too many maintenance problems.

The hobbyist describes the historic experiences of the brakemen, evidenced by how many fingers were left from work on the railway. Now, the link and pin that connect train cars use automatic devices called knuckle couplers, reducing the danger to a brakeman’s hands.

Nostalgic model train enthusiasts still appreciate the folk song “The Wreck of Old ’97,” with the last stanza, when the engineer was “scalded to death” by the steam: “Never speak harsh words to your true lovin’ husband, he may leave you and never return.”

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 4/15/2014
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