Model Railroad Association Keeps Alive The Mystique and Power Of Trains

The Walnut Creek Model Railroad warehouse in Larkey Park has a 1,900-square-foot village with 4,300 feet of train tracks

Jim Harrison and Ted Moreland stand in front of part of the train village in the Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society's warehouse
Jim Harrison and Ted Moreland stand in front of part of the train village in the Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society's warehouse
There's a certain "Wow!" factor when you walk into that plain looking building on the southeast corner of Larkey Park.

Inside the home of the Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society is a re-creation of a mountain village with 4,300 feet of railroad tracks for miniature trains to glide along.

The set-up is 34 feet by 56 feet and has an overhead loft for visitors to gaze below. There's also two entrances so adults and children can get a closer look at the two sides of the miniature train village.

The association volunteers give tours of the Diablo Valley Lines system for groups. They also have monthly train shows for the public.

The next one is from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 27. There are three shows in January, including weekend shows from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Jan. 18 and 19. (A full schedule is attached in a pdf format)

The railroad society was formed in 1948 and it opened its building on Buena Vista Avenue in 1975.

That's the year Ted Moreland found the group.

The Ohio native grew up loving trains, big and small. His father once brought home from the Korean War two crates full of model trains.

"All little kids like trains. It's instinctive," said Moreland.

Moreland drifted away from trains as a young adult while he worked as a computer programmer and raised a family.

In 1975, he ventured into the new model railroad warehouse and, like many visitors, was blown away. He's been a member ever since.

Jim Harrison has a similar story.

He grew up in Oakland and fondly remembers the trains that ran through the middle of that city.

One day he was standing near the old General Motors plant when a train engineer invited him to sit in the cab of the locomotive.

"That set the hook," said Harrison.

Harrison also got busy with life as a young adult and didn't visit the train yards as often.

However, in 1977 he visited the Walnut Creek warehouse and was drawn back in. He's also been a member ever since.

Both men said it's hard to explain why trains fascinate them so much.

Harrison said the power and the beauty are like nothing else.

"It's a mystique," he said.

He adds he likes the idea of being able to go to a railroad yard and then re-create what he saw in the Walnut Creek warehouse.

"I can take a picture of something and then make it here," said Harrison. "It's the thrill of making it."

Moreland says the ability to get up close and watch such powerful machines is intoxicating.

"They're big, but they're also accessible," said Moreland.

He likes the model railroad because of the hands-on experience.

"It's something you can work with," he said.

The Walnut Creek association has 55 members. Moreland said they range from people in their early 20s to their mid-80s.

About a third of the members are retired and the other two-thirds are still in the work force. A number are involved in the computer industry.

Moreland said some members like building the trains while others like doing the wiring and others enjoy building the surrounding landscape.

Both Harrison and Moreland say the model railroad set-up in Walnut Creek is important because it keeps alive a vital part of American history, in particular the railroad's role in the Industrial Revolution.

"It's a connection to our heritage," said Moreland.


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