Noise of modern life got you down? Turns out you can escape it altogether in the basement of Memorial Lutheran Church in Rose Village.
There, the Southwest Washington Model Railroaders run a deliberate, meticulous little world. Every tiny detail is impeccable, down to the tiny warehouse filled with tiny boxes stamped with “UNITED CASTING” in an impossibly tiny font. Every tree and buffalo and lovingly cultivated cliffside is accounted for, scrupulously arranged around the winding tracks.
Walk down the stairs and take it in. Take a breath. Meditation comes in many forms. This one just happens to involve miniature locomotives.
“It just takes you to another place,” said Gary Walker, the club’s president, during their semiannual open house event on Saturday.
“When I’m in my basement running trains, it’s like every other care in the world goes away, you know? Everybody’s got their thing. And for us, it’s the trains.”
Around since the 1970s, the Vancouver group has moved between a few different homes over the years. Jerry Jacobus and Rik Simmonds have been around since the beginning, and between the two of them have more than a century of experience designing and running model trains.
“We’ve moved around different places over the years, but we spent most of our time at the Nazarene Church,” said Jacobus, who also owns local body shop Jacobus CARSTAR. “At one point, we had this layout set up in my body shop for three months.”
The club has been in its current home for about a year and a half. They cover $500 in monthly rent through member dues, and in exchange share a large, collective space to run their personal equipment.
“I can bring (my trains) from home and run them,” Simmonds said. “At home, it’s just DC electrics, where this is what they call DCC — digital command control.”
Direct current operations are the old-school way of running model trains — on DC tracks, all the trains travel in the same speed at the same direction. Digital command control, or DCC, gives an operator more control and lets he or she run trains at varying speeds and in opposite directions.
The impressive setup in the basement takes around three months to assemble, Simmonds added, and requires careful maintenance to keep clean and operational. It’s built to the HO scale, meaning its scale ratio is 1:87. The display has a 14-by-35-foot layout, an L-shaped 14-by-8-foot by 15-inch-deep switching layout and a 6-by-12-foot traveling display layout of scenes on the SP&S railway.
The Vancouver group has around 40 and 50 members, Walker said. Many of them are military veterans. Most all of them are lifelong model train enthusiasts after picking up the hobby in their childhood.
“Parents get you a train set for Christmas, you start out with a piece of plywood and an oval, and start putting a building or two on there, and some trees. And before you know it you’re hooked,” Walker said.
That’s how it happened for Brian Morioka, who said he makes a point of swinging by all the model train shows and displays in his area. Growing up, his brother got a model train set when Morioka was in junior high school.
“My brother grew out of it. I didn’t,” Morioka said, beaming at a passing locomotive as a little puff of fake smoke rose out the smokestack.
Morioka’s drawn to the artistic side of the hobby, he said. He doesn’t smoke, drink or do drugs — instead, he designs entire worlds, forever tinkering and adding detail to his models.
“You can do anything,” Morioka said. “You’re never done. The main thing is that you’re never done.”
The Southwest Washington Model Railroaders meet every 7 p.m. every Monday at Memorial Lutheran Church at 2700 East 28th St. Meetings are open to both current and prospective members.
Their next public event is the 46th Great Train Swap Meet on 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28 at Battle Ground High School. You can also find the club on Facebook at facebook.com/Southwest-Washington-Model-Railroaders-147237705342435/