Monday, September 2, 2019
Having a friend who is a member of a well conceived model railroad club has its benefits. My friend drove me out to Whatcom Skagit Model Railroad Club which is between Bellingham and Mount Vernon, Washington on Old Highway 99. The building is an historic Grange meeting hall next to a church. Pulling into the uneven pothole infested gravel parking lot, the first impression was tentative. Frankly, from the outside, the place looked like a dump.
First impressions. Stepping into the building, expecting to smell mold and mildew, no typical pacific northwest temperate rain forest old building smell. No smell. There is a fair amount of clutter on the work surfaces. To be expected. Model railroading is primarily a guy thing. Not because the club members aren’t friendly, warm or inviting. Women just don’t generally seem to be into model railroading.
The two layouts are better and more complex than any I’ve ever seen. Railroad museums can’t hold a candle to the club’s layouts. My friend is an N Gauge guy. Another club member was in the club when we arrived. He was working on the HO scale layout.
As a child, I ran HO trains. Naturally, I checked out the HO layout first.
The detail in the model was impressive. Both the HO and N gauge layouts were crafted to represent the region’s local rail lines.
My friend had brought several N gauge engine sets, each capable of independent remote control. This new control element was new to me. In the old days, individual trains were controlled by electrifying different sections of track. Two trains couldn’t be powered from the same section of track without eventually running into each other. He was ready to provide a brief introduction to the new controls. Soon I would be the engineer of my own train.
The first train configuration I drove was a set of cattle cars pulled by an oil fired engine. The cattle cars in honor of my being from the great state of Texas. The oil fired engine because it is a rare configuration. The train engine also made sounds. The horn blew. It’s bells clanged. Buttons on the remote control. The headlamp blazed as it went down the track.
Then the engine stalled. Dirty track? Nope. Pushed it down the track a bit. It started up again.
Down the track, through the valleys and into the mountains. Another stall. More fiddling. Some stalls are caused by misconfigured switches. At some point, all the railroad switches were in the right position. Running again. Made it all the way around the track.
Under a trestle, an accident scene was modeled. First responders were working the accident. It all looked very typical until the Easter egg was spotted.
The victim, below and slightly left of the blue wrecked car is face down on a rock with blood stream down the rock. The blood trail is behind the blue uniformed policeman. Odd. After this bit of track, other Easter eggs became apparent. Yeti AKA Sasquatch shows up in a number of places. Fun artistic outlet.
The N gauge track layout is down over two levels to make better use of the available floor space. A helix at each end gets the trains between the upper and lower track levels. Above is the outlet onto the lower level.
I prefer to see the helix by climbing under the curtain under the lower level. Standing up inside the helix is like being in a barrel where the sides of the barrel are the coils in the track.
If getting down on your hands and knees and crawling into tight spaces isn’t your thing, closed circuit TV shows the train’s progress through the helix. Good to know when derails impede progress.
The make believe aspect of model layouts is appealing. Turn the lights down and enter a dream world. The Salvation Army isn’t exactly one of my fantasies but in this lighting it looks positively dreamy.
The upper and lower track sections are clear in the following picture.
At some point, the finicky engine just stopped working. It was replaced with three common standard modern style engines. They worked much better and move the long train along at constant speeds. I keep increasing the speed by five units until I begin to wonder out loud how fast the train can go before derailing. My friend suggests that derailing is bad. I stop increasing the speed. The new engine set also makes sounds like the first one. More horns and bells. Cool.
My friend has been putting together one of his prized trains. A complete passenger train with regular, observation, sleeper and restaurant cars. I remarked that I rode trains like that between Seattle and the Tri-Cities (Richland, Pasco and Kennewick).
Wolfkill Feed and Seed in Stanwood, a community south of Bellingham along the coast. The business is long gone but not so long ago that it wasn’t included in the railroad model. Two other Wolkfill Feed (and Fertilizer) stores still exist in Washington State. One in Western Washington and the other in Eastern Washington.
While the Sportsman’s Den Barber Shop and Knutzen Building still exist across from the railroad tracks in Burlington, the others appear to be gone. There is a Walton Beverage Company still operating in Burlington but it isn’t anywhere near railroad tracks.
Google Maps still shows a Holiday Market in Burlington across the street from railroad tracks. However, the satellite view shows a recently bulldozed lot. Still, much of the region is represented in models.
Whatcom City Hall is painted on the wall. The original three dimensional model was damaged when the club moved to the current location. This same building still stands and is now the Whatcom Museum. Whatcom was one of four towns that were consolidated into Bellingham around 1900.
The above sign was hung on the wall. It is one of the double take signs. After several readings, I finally got the message.
Playing with trains in such a rich environment was a true pleasure. Perhaps it can be done again some day.
If, for some reason, you might want to drop in on Whatcom Skagit Model Railroad Club to see their awesome layouts, go to their website and click on Open House. Eleven open houses are scheduled over the next year. Dates and times are shown on the website.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!