On the right tracks

Members of the Glendale Model Railroad Club are in locomotion mode this weekend as they kick off their 60th anniversary celebration and share their love of trains with the public.

The group is having its spring open house today through Monday at the clubhouse, which is tucked in a corner of Fremont Park in Glendale.

The public will be able to watch trains as they make their way through 1,500 feet of track and landscape set up inside the clubhouse, said Paul C. Koehler, club member and past president.

“Members can run five trains on the main line, plus we have four yards that members can run one or two trains and a branch line that can run two trains,” Koehler said. “We can keep 19 members busy running a train.”

There is a glass wall that separates the public from the trains, and several members are stationed on the public side of the glass to answer questions, he said.

The trains are delicate and some are costly, running as high as $5,000, Koehler said.

The group deals in trains built in “HO” scale, which is “half-zero gauge” and means they are 1/87 the size of a real train.

Trains vary from turn-of-the-century styles from 1900 up to the 2007 Metrolink trains one sees running through Glendale today.

“And just about every era in between,” Koehler said.

The purpose of the three-day event is to share the hobby with the public, said club President Joe Wilke, of Burbank.

“For us, the event is a chance to show off our trains and layouts and share the hobby with others and promote the hobby,” said Wilke, who has been a member since 1995. “We like talking to people about the hobby.”

Members open the clubhouse to the public from 7:30 to 10 p.m. on the first Monday of the month and have open houses twice a year, he said.

This spring open house is the kickoff for the yearlong celebration of the club’s 60th anniversary, Koehler said. It’s a chance to share the hobby with the community and recruit new members, he said.

“It’s free, which is especially great with the price of gas,” he said. “This provides free family entertainment.”

The club is open to anyone interested in trains, Koehler said. “We’re like the Marines, we’re always looking for a few good members,” he quipped.

Special events are being planned throughout the year leading up to the anniversary of the club’s founding, Koehler said.

The club was formed in April 1949 in a local hobby shop, and meetings rotated between the hobby shop and members’ homes.

Members acquired a building and city fathers donated a space on a vacant lot opposite Fremont Park where the building was placed in June 1949, Koehler said.

“The original building, put there in 1949, burned to the ground in 1963, and we rebuilt the existing building you see today,” Koehler said.

Koehler and Wilke are avid fans of the railroad.

Koehler, who worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad from 1965 to 1989, owns about 150 books on railroad history of freight and passenger trains. His main focus is the Southern Pacific Railroad and its subsidiaries that include the Pacific Electric Railway, which was known as the red cars, he said.

Wilke has collected trains for 25 years. His specialty is “G-scale” models, which are larger trains than the HO scale. He also has four Santa Fe Railroad passenger trains that are HO scale, he said.

The train he’s taking to the open house is the Santa Fe Valley Flyer, an HO scale, he said. It was created by Santa Fe to showcase passenger travel for the Santa Fe Railroad during the 1939 World Expo on Treasure Island in San Francisco.

“I like to collect the unusual items, and this particular locomotive and train set only existed for about seven months as a real train,” Wilke said.

“After the expo ended, it was repainted and put back into regular service.”

“It was a marketing ploy by Santa Fe to showcase what they can do to encourage people to ride the train,” he said. “In 1939, the company was trying to get people to travel across the country by train. Santa Fe ran trains from Los Angeles to Chicago.”

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