A few Sundays ago the Seattle Seahawks were not playing football. My wife and I were doing some shopping, however midway through the day I was burned out and she continued. With no football to watch I needed something to do so I followed the white and black signs on the corner of Russell and MLK to the Columbia Gorge Model Railroad Show.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect once I got inside. Like many kids I had my own toy railroad set. I used to connect the track pieces, usually in an oval, then place the engine and cars on the track. After a while I would fill the train cars with stuff or find a way to torment the cat. I had one neighbor that used a sheet of plywood and made a nifty little railroad scene complete with buildings, trees and little people. I was always jealous of that kid.
After going inside and paying the $5 fee for adults I still was not sure what was behind the curtain. Then I walked in. The “conductor” greeted me on the other side and explained the layout. That layout is 60 feet by 70 feet – a lot bigger than a 4 x 8 piece of plywood. It is a loose representation of the Columbia Gorge between Portland and Wishram Washington including a rail line “up” the Deschutes river to Bend.
The first thing I noticed, beyond an engine terminal is a fabulous representation of the Broadway bridge and Union Station. The bridge looks very “real”. Union Station appears to be right to scale and is very detailed. Street cars are traversing the bridge and stopping in front of Union Station. In the distance is Portland Heights and across the “Willamette” is Albina Yard. Just beyond Albina Yard is a working model of the Steel Bridge. The bridge actually goes up just like the real one.
On the other side, tracks are winding up hills and mountains and passing through small towns. There are several tunnels and bridges and a model of the Crooked River Bridge.
The tour continues through Troutdale where there is a working model of coal dumping station and several buildings. At the Drive-In, where a very small LCD TV represents the screen, the Wizard of Oz is featured. Behind Troutdale is the Operators Platform. There, about 6 people are controlling different trains and other mechanics of the model. It obviously takes a lot of coordination to make it all work – not too much unlike a real rail system. Behind the operators are the Dalles Yards.
Continuing along the “river” I came to the Logging Branch where there are mountains, bridges, small buildings and houses. The engines are little smaller so they can navigate the steep windy tracks. On the other side is the Wishram Yard with a very detailed switching yard layout. In the distance, though slightly out of place, the tracks lead up the Deschutes River to the Bend Yard.
The scenes are amazing. Based on the automobiles and and the architecture it looks like the model is representing the 40’s or 50’s. The buildings and houses have incredible detail in the siding, roofing, coloring, and windows. I suspect not every building actually exists or existed, but it is very believable they could have. The scenes also include details like railway crossings, cars, people, animals, and vegetation. Like the real world, there are even traffic accidents and a house fire where the emergency vehicle’s lights are actually working.
I went near the end of the day and I am glad I did. The lights in the room adjusted while I was there to represent the sunset and eventually nightfall. Some details of course are lost in the dim lights, but others, like engine headlights, working street lights and neon signs really stand out.
The Columbia Gorge Model Railroad Club , featured in an upcoming Film Festival movie titled “Train Master”, is holding their current show 4 weekends through December 2nd. The model is located at 2505 N Vancouver at Russell. If you see the white signs with black letters around the neighborhood letting you know there is a show, stop by. It is a family friendly event that will appeal to the kid in all of us.