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Yuma Model Railroaders bring big imaginations to timeless hobby
Big imaginations create entire villages that can fit neatly on a surface the size of a pool table, given life by the scale-model locomotives and boxcars that churn along their tracks.
Toy trains are for kids. Model trains are high-end toys for kids at heart, and the Yuma Model Railroaders are a group of train enthusiasts for whom growing older has been mandatory but growing up has been optional.
Like many model railroaders, Lee Stoermer had trains as a child. He fell back into the hobby a few years ago and is now the club's president. (He also has a cat named Chessie, as in the kitten mascot of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway.)
Miniatures are calming for him. Some people play golf or tennis, some watch the game on TV, and others build train layouts, or dioramas.
Club members bring a range of interests and knowledge to the Yuma Model Railroaders, which they share with clinics and fellowship. Modelers can specialize in electrical plans that set miniature Main Streets aglow, or painting the plastic walls of an inches-tall post office to look like real brick, or sculpting pinky finger-sized trees so detailed you can almost hear the squirrel chatter.
Some prefer to simply display their cars and not run them. Others customize them and will spend hours and hours on one locomotive.
“It's very creative,” Stoermer said.
The Yuma Model Railroaders maintain a modular layout that has made appearances at Lettuce Days, the Yuma County Fair, the local doll and toy show, and for a while, in its own space at the Southgate Mall. With the closure of the old mall for extensive renovations, the club is without a home. Stoermer said he's flexible on their next clubhouse, as long as it's dry and has electricity. Modelers of all ages and scale and gauge preferences are welcome, as are winter visitors.
Modelers enjoy a range of scales, or the size of their models. The most popular is the HO-scale, which at 1:87 is easy to handle, neither too big nor too small. The club's traveling layout is in HO-scale.
Bigger scales include the O-scale (1:48, like the old Lionel trains) and the G-scale (1:24), a “garden scale” because it looks at Lilliputian home in a garden. On the other side are the N-scale (1:160, which is pretty small), the Z-scale (1:220, which is tiny) and the T-scale (1:480, which is really tiny).
They also like the real thing, and apply their craftsmanship to full-sized museum pieces. Yuma's club members have worked on preserving the 1877 wooden coach car on display at the Quartermaster Depot and are the unofficial caretakers of the Southern Pacific steam locomotive at Pivot Point. They also made the layout at the Quartermaster Depot depicting Yuma at the time of statehood.
John Dye has loved trains, real and hand-held, his entire life. Born in England, raised in Canada and now long an American, Dye played with OO-scale (similar to HO-scale) trains as a boy. His parents worked for railroads; his father's jobs included brakeman and signalman.
Dye came to the United States as a young man, joined the U.S. Navy, and found an on-base hobby shop when he was stationed in Memphis, Tenn. in 1971. The store sold N-scale, a good size for the young sailor living in small quarters. When he got married and lived with his wife in a one-bedroom apartment, “there was a double bed and an 8-by-4 train board in the same room.”
Models can become an expensive investment, with all the tracks and switches and tiny illuminated post office buildings and microscopic trees. Model technology has improved over the years, too. But adults have more discretionary income, making those childlike desires easier to satisfy.
“It just gets better and better, really,” Dye said.
The trains are also a good multi-generational bridge: Dye has seen people of all ages captivated by the trains when they're rolling along. His own grandkids, of course, are big fans.
“When they come to Papa's house they all know they can go out in the garage and see the trains.”