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Working on the (model) railroad

Rambling River Center Train Club members Charlie Weber and George Fischer work on the club's permanent layout at the city's senior center. About 20 men are members of the club, which meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month.

Tucked into a back room at Farmington's Rambling River Center, a group of men is busy reliving their childhood on a scale that was never possible when they were younger.

The Rambling River Center, Farmington's senior center, has hosted a model train club for four or five years -- its founding members aren't exactly sure -- but the center's move to a larger space last year means the club finally has some room to spread out.

They're taking full advantage.

On plywood platforms in a space once occupied by the city's police department club members are building their own miniature world. It doesn't look like much yet. Track rests on bare wood, or on blocks of foam. But the club has big ideas. They've got a large main display and a removable bridge that will eventually carry trains through a hole cut in a block wall and into a room that was formerly a jail cell. They'd like to recreate some Farmington landmarks like the Feely Elevator that sits along the real tracks that run just a few blocks to the west.

The permanent display will make meetings easier for the club, which before now had to set up a modular display if they wanted to try out new trains at their monthly meetings.

"I don't have any room at home for any of this stuff," said Dave McMillen, the club's president. "This way we can get together, we can share knowledge, share ideas, learn about the new products coming out.... It's a big boys' club."

The permanent space will also allow club members to have a more elaborate display for events like the Nov. 27 Trains, Treats and Tunes. That event invited kids to come check out the trains, listen to holiday music, visit with Santa and build their own sweet trains out of Twinkies and licorice.

Sharing the trains is one of the biggest benefits of being in the club. Club members love to watch kids get excited when they come in the room. Some of those kids are happy to stand for hours and watch the trains roll past. Sometimes parents pull their children away, only to come back later for more.

"The kids' eyes light up when they come in," McMillan said.

Club members know just how the kids feel. Each of the train club's 20 or so members came to their hobby in a different way, but all have a passion for trains.

McMillan had never done any train modeling before he joined the club, but he loved full-size trains. His wife, Cindy, works at Rambling River Center, so when one of the center's members talked about starting a train club, she gave out her husband's number.

Club member Gerry Mattson's passion for trains goes back "farther than I can remember." He got his first train, a wind-up model, when he was about 2.

"My dad said he thought he was going to get carpal tunnel from winding it up," Mattson said.

Other club members have similar stories. For them, the club is an excuse to sit around and talk about trains, or to work on a display they could never put up in their own homes.

"It gives us an excuse to come argue with some guys and not with the wife," Mattson said.

Club members also plan special events like last month's Trains, Treats and Tunes, or displays for Dew Days and the Dakota County Fair.

The club meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month. And while it meets at a senior center, the group is open for anyone with a passion for trains.

"There are no seniors here," Mattson said. "We're all kids."

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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