Miniature train depot comes downtown
“All aboard!” That’s the cry coming from the once empty storefront next to the Northwestern Lounge in downtown Rhinelander. Tom Kolbek and his pals are the conductors at this “depot,” and they are busy laying tracks and buffing up locomotives at a display that is sure to awe model train enthusiasts of every age.
“There’s just something about model trains that really make people happy,” said Tom. “I think it’s the childhood memories that trigger a feeling of nostalgia for a lot of people.”
Tom is no exception. Happy memories of days playing with his own model train, a gift from his father many Christmases ago, have led to an adult hobby that brings joy and wonderment to all. In fact, this hobbyist, and his fellow model train friends, are busy these days constructing a display that is sure to bring smiles and plenty of recollections to all who view it. In fact one look into the big picture windows at 123 Brown St. and you can see for yourself. It’s here that the Rhinelander Modular Rail Group is setting up their model train display and are inviting everyone to come down and join in the fun.
This industrious project was the brain child of members belonging to the Rhinelander Modular Rail Group. Many of its members are responsible for the display at the railroad museum at Pioneer Park in Rhinelander. But that model train display is closed for the winter, leaving these boys and their toys bereft. “The Pioneer Park museum closes for the winter,” said Tom. “So we decided to make another one we could work on all year long.”
The group agreed to construct a more mobile type model train scenario that they could take apart and resurrect for model train contests or other events. Their ambitions are high, and they decided to create a mammoth scenario that would include more than 100 feet of track and be set on sturdy tables in a circular pattern. Ten sections including four large corner pieces and six tables each six-foot long, connect together to create a continuing diorama of depots, scenery, towns, multiple trains and other unique features.
Finding a spot to construct the train project turned out to be more of a challenge than Tom and his fellow conductors, including Norm Braeger, who is treasurer of the club and Jim Brown, who serves as president, imagined. Originally the plan was to set it up in Tom’s garage. But once cold and snowy weather hit, other members of his family wanted to use the structure for its intended purpose of parking a car. So the group turned to the Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce for help, who referred them to Rhinelander Downtown Inc. headed by Sue Bessert. She inquired with several property owners on Brown Street, and Tim Biermeier, owner of the Northwestern Lounge, agreed to let them construct their display in the empty store next to the Northwestern. “It’s a good fit and a great location,” said Tom. “We want this to be a project people of all ages can come and visit. And we decided in the end to construct it where lots of people can enjoy it.”
Right now the project is in its beginning stages. The six foot long tables have been constructed and tracks are being laid. But the group works on it every day and their goal is to have it up and running within a couple of weeks.
The group is also very grateful to Tim for letting them set up their display in his empty store, and they want to give back to the community to show their appreciation. They are inviting everyone, young and old, to come down and watch them construct their model train project, and even have a little fun running a train once it is operating. And, it’s their hope, that the project will draw shoppers to this area of the city for the holiday season. “It’s a good way to get people downtown to check out what’s here and hopefully purchase something,” said Tom. “When you shop locally, you help everyone in the community.”
In addition, they want everyone to come down and see just how far the model train industry has come. “Lots of these trains have computer chips in them,” said Tom. “The hobby has really gotten high tech.”
This project is also allowing the group to dust off older models they have stored away and to bring out a variety of train memorabilia that has been given to them over the years by those getting out of the hobby. “Gosh we had boxes and boxes of stuff,” said Tom. “It’s good to be able to use it.
Everyone is invited to stop by and watch the conductors at work and to see the display when it is finished. Their 123 Brown St. location will be open Tuesday, Wednesday Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., and on Friday from noon to 8 p.m. The display will be closed on Monday. And Tom is especially hoping kids will find the project as fascinating as he has over the years.
“Kids don’t play with stuff like trains like they used to,” he said. “I think it’s good for them to get away from the TV games every once in a while. Model trains could open up a whole new world to them.”