Large-scale model train layouts, such as this mountain scene by John Gerritsma, are large enough to fill a garage. [Photo courtesy of John Gerritsma]

All aboard the Rogue Valley Railroad Show

The annual Rogue Valley Railroad Show delights kids of all ages with its beautifully crafted scenes from Small Town, USA, where miniature trains follow the rails through handcrafted landscapes, linking imaginary cities and rural communities.

The Railroad Show, scheduled for this weekend at the Expo in Central Point, will include layouts of a variety of model train gauges, exhibits from the Southern Oregon Railway Historical Society, Rogue Valley model railroad manufacturers, a swap meet, Operation Lifesaver, door prizes and raffles.

The show will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26, in the Seven Feathers Event Center at the Expo, 1 Peninger Road. Admission is $5; $1 for ages 6 through 12. Kids $5 and younger get in free. Proceeds support the five railroad clubs at the Medford Railroad Park: Southern Oregon Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, Southern Oregon Live Steamers, Morse Telegraph Club, Rogue Valley Model Railroad Club and Medford Garden Railroaders.

There’s a lot more to model railroading than a miniature locomotive that chugs around an oval track, explains committee member John Gerritsma. For those who love trains, he says, there is imagination, creativity and romance.

As a child growing up in Holland, Gerritsma was surrounded by trains.

"I’ve loved trains since I was 6 years old," he says. "There’s something very satisfying about watching a powerful engine roll by with tons and tons of freight behind it. I find the train yard operations fascinating, and there’s always been a certain romance in traveling by train.”

It’s apparent from the displays that each model railroader pours heart and soul into creating his layout. The scenes are so realistic you can almost feel your nose tingle with cold as your eyes follow shiny tracks that wind through snow-covered mountain passes.

Gerritsma says his first trains were HO scale, which is by far the most popular size. In model railroading vernacular, scale refers to the size relationship of a model to the real world. For instance, HO scale is one to 87, which means it is 1/87th the size of a real train. Gauge is the distance between the outer rails of the model train track.

Since 2003, his creative efforts have focused on the considerably smaller N scale layout at 1:160, which he says fits more easily in an enclosed room in his three-car garage.

"I have a large fictional town with an operational railroad yard. I also have a timber mill that I’m working on, a fruit packing plant and a furniture factory,” he says.

When creating pieces for his layout, Gerritsma says he draws heavily on themes he’s experienced in the Rocky Mountains.

"The real appeal of model railroading is that you create your own little world," he says. "You use the memories and the pleasant experiences to translate into your models. A lot of inspiration comes from areas in and around the railroad, things you see that you know would make a good scene in your display.”

The Railroad Show has expanded since moving to the Expo. Last year, nearly 4,000 visitors attended the event. Bruce McGarvey, who's been involved with the show for 20 years, says, “We have so much more room than we did at the Medford Armory. This year, in addition to all the displays, we will have a variety of vendors with T-shirts, videos, books and all kinds of railroad-related items. We have displays coming in from around the state, from the smallest gauges up to garden railroad exhibits.”

Trains aren’t used nearly as much as they used to be, McGarvey says.

“We don’t see them as often as we used to," he says. "The reduction in the logging industry has greatly reduced the need for the transportation of lumber products. It used to be one of the prime exports out of this valley ... which might just make the Rogue Valley Railroad show more important than ever.

“In 40 years of doing the show, we’ve exposed multiple generations to trains. I’d like to think between that and the Railroad Park, we’ve sparked some interest in trains and in model railroading.”

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