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For many, history is the engine that drives interest in model trains, expo at Century II

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, March 8, 2014, at 6:18 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, March 8, 2014, at 6:18 p.m.


Model trains may seem small as they chug past tiny replicas of farms and towns, but they proudly carried the attention of hundreds Saturday at the Great Train Expo at Century II.

The show, which filled Century II Exhibition Hall, has elaborate train displays by clubs from around the region and vendors of trains and their accessories. There was a lot of questions asked and advice given.

The show continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

There’s no single explanation for the continued appeal of model trains, said Rick Inselman, member of a central Oklahoma N-scale model railroad club, which had a huge display set up.

Some people just like trains, big or little. Some like the history. Some like an activity they can share with their children. Others like the hands-on detailed model building.

It will certainly absorb all the time and attention you want to lavish on it, Inselman said of his hobby. He was giving advice to admirers of his work on how to create N-scale corn fields using green outdoor carpeting and pumpkins using orange beads.

“You can be in a whole different world,” Inselman said. “My daughter loves books. I love trains.”

Hank Lewis said he grew up around trains – the real ones – decades ago. It was the deep history of trains that turned him on to model trains a few years ago.

He has built a replica, more or less, of downtown Mulvane and its historic Santa Fe depot.

“There is so much history with trains,” he said.

Not everyone at the show was a deep aficianado.

Katie Coffey of Wichita has brought her young son to the show for the past three years, an interest that started with “Thomas the Tank Engine.”

She admitted she probably wouldn’t have come on her own but said she’s learned to like the show.

“It’s an opportunity to learn about new things,” she said diplomatically.

And there are new things in model railroading, said expo owner Bill Grove.

Computer gaming and other technology has cut into the traditional appeal of model railroading in recent years, he said.

But model railroading has incorporated new technology, too. Train sets now have wireless digital controls that can be run from an iPad.

An operator can now run two trains on the same track at different speeds and control the lights and switches individually, he said.

Looking out over the milling enthusiasts at the expo, many of them children, Grove was pleased. He said he expected about 2,000 on Saturday and about 1,000 on Sunday.

This is his business. Every week he sets up train expos in a new city around the U.S. and has done so for decades.

The Wichita show is near the end of his season. Model trains are a cold weather/inside hobby, he said.

That’s why he was happy about Saturday’s chilly weather. It was just right.

“A foot of snow and I do terrible; 70 degrees and I do terrible,” he said. “I pray for 45 degrees and drizzle.”

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or dvoorhis@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danvoorhis.

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