Liam Jones, 5, of Medford reacts as a caboose rolls by at an exhibit from the Southwest Oregon Large Scale Train Club Saturday at the annual Rogue Valley Railroad Show.

The Train Gang

Gavin Wilkinson had no time for a chat Saturday, much less an interview. The 31/2-year-old from Eagle Point was too excited. Thomas the Tank Engine was coming down the track with two box cars in tow at the 33rd Rogue Valley Railroad Show at the Medford Armory.

"Up! Up!" he called to his older brother, Bryson, 11, just as Thomas steamed past. Bryson quickly picked up his height-challenged brother so Gavin could see the blue train of his dreams passing by on the elevated, large-scale model track.

The brothers were among more than 100 happy kids and dozens of equally happy adults gathered around a large track featuring large-scale trains. Thomas was designed and built by Dale Butler, vice president of Southern Oregon Live Steamers, one of the clubs putting on the popular annual show.

"Gavin can't take his eyes off of Thomas," offered Jennie Wilkinson of Eagle Point, the boys' grandmother. "He just loves Thomas."

In fact, Gavin has a Thomas model train at home, she noted. Bryson, who also likes trains, sets it up for his little brother.

"Gavin has all the different ones — I can't keep up with the names anymore," Bryson said.

Word has it that Santa may be bringing some additional model train gear this Christmas, their grandmother observed as Thomas sped by again.

"My husband always came to this event — he passed away last year," she said of the late Charles Wilkinson. "It's tradition for us. We will be here for the duration."

The show continues from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the armory, 1701 S. Pacific Highway, Medford. Admission is $5 for most folks, $4 for seniors and free for train buffs 14 and younger.

Organizers expect about 3,500 people to attend the event. In addition to providing endless entertainment for those who love trains, the show has vendors from throughout the West. The huge armory has more trains than the Chicago railroad had in its glory.

Like the Wilkinsons, Grants Pass resident Shawn Butler, 35, and his son, Cayden, 9, have a family tradition of attending the show. This marks the fifth year in a row they have attended, Shawn Butler said.

"We come every year now," he said, noting they brought an "O" gauge boxcar to be repaired this year.

"We have a set at home but the train isn't working right now," explained Cayden, who was proudly wearing his striped RR hat.

The father and son, who entered a raffle with chances to win a model set worth more than $600, were among those watching Thomas and other trains coming around the track.

"Thomas is a big hit with everyone — they love that train," observed Medford resident Bill Meyer, 65, a retired Lone Pine Elementary School teacher, who was busy making sure all the trains ran on time.

One of the event organizers, Meyer is a member of Southwestern Oregon Large Scale Trains. In addition to that group and the live steamers, other RR organizations sponsoring and organizing the annual event include the Rogue Valley Model Railroad Club, the Southern Oregon Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and the Morse Telegraph Club.

"My grandfather was an engineer in the '30s and '40s in Ohio," Meyer said as Thomas sped past again. "He used to come home with coal in his lunch box. He ran the steam engines in and out of Cleveland."

Among the other trains on the track was a replica of a steam engine pulling some two dozen cars that bore names such as Florence and Cripple Creek, Pennsylvania, Union Pacific, Great Northern and Southern Pacific.

The exotic rectangle track includes everything a train could conceivably encounter: a tunnel winding through a mountain, a little town complete with a church and steeple, a railroad station, a haunted mansion, a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel and, of course, trestles.

Meyer contributed a model of a forest fire with a fire lookout and a junk yard appropriately labeled, "Bill's Auto Parts."

"Each one is owned by individuals in our clubs," he said. "They design their own vignettes and build them."

Funds from the annual — and only — show by the five clubs go toward upkeep and improvements of their popular Medford Railroad Park off Berrydale Avenue, which is open from April to October.

"We work on this all year long," Meyer said of the show. "All this gets packed up and stored for the year when this is over.

"If you are here at 4 o'clock (today), you will see this thing disappear in one hour," he added. "Then our show committee will meet on Wednesday to begin planning next year's show at the armory."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at

Share This Story