La Grange railroad show offers sentimental journey



Railroad buffs and novices enjoyed the All American Railroad Show held Saturday in La Grange.

About 28 exhibitors set up displays of their model trains and scenes in the Lyons Township High School field house at Brainard and Cossitt avenues.

“You can either sit home and look at what you built yourself, or you can show it off here and let the public see,” said Patrick Golden, coordinator of the show that is sponsored by the DuPage Division/Midwest Region of the National Model Railroad Association and the high school.

About 2,000 people usually visit the show, which is in its 33rd year.

Brad Sutton, of Bolingbrook, brought his trains to the show and set up a scene of a small town and farming area.

“I grew up in a small town in Indiana,” Sutton said. “Towns grew up around the railroad.”

His layout showed the trains hauling grain, but also featured a hazardous material team responding to a chemical leaking from a train car and, in town, there was a burning building.

“I’m a retired firefighter,” Sutton said, explaining why he included those scenes.

Roger Simmons of Morris, Ill. included a Caterpillar plant and a drive-in movie in his display, which is set in 1956.

“I used to work for Caterpillar,” Simmons said. “And the drive-in is patterned after one I used to go to in Davenport, Iowa. That’s where I was born and raised.”

Movies actually play at his drive-in, because Simmons has a miniature DVD-player running in the display. But he is careful to show no movie newer than 1956.

Likewise, the newest model of car parked at the drive-in is from 1955.

Dave Stone, of Westmont, said his interest in model trains has lasted more than 30 years.

“I like the scene-making, the modeling, finding different ways to build stuff.” The terrain in his and his friend Jim Rogan’s display goes from the green of the Midwest to the desert of the Southwest.

“All the trees are handmade,” Stone said.

They start with a Scandinavian weed they buy from a company that sells them for model railroads.

“You take the weed and boil it to get all the bugs and bacteria out,” Stone said. “Then you paint them to be whatever kind of tree you want. And then the secret ingredient is hairspray. When you sprinkle the flock on them, it sticks to the hairspray.”

Flock is a ground-up foam material that gives the trees texture.

“We spent about two weeks making trees,” Stone said.

As important as details are to model railroads is the size. Model trains come in various sizes or gauges. Going from large to small, they include G, O, S, HO, N and Z.

Sutton explained that O is the size of the Lionel trains many people had as children. His scene is gauge HO, which stands for half the size as O.

Simmons prefers N-gauge, which is smaller still.

“I like N because I can get more stuff in the same amount of space,” Simmons said. “Most people don’t like it because it’s too small. Too small for the hands and too small for the eyes, especially as you get older.”

“I knew there were different sizes, but I didn’t know how many there are,” said Mac McNeer of LaGrange, who attended the show with his wife and two sons. Growing up, McNeer had an HO set.

His 5-year-old son, Connor, was enjoying the G-gauge railroad, which was set up on the floor of the fieldhouse and covered the largest area.

Dan Smith, of LaGrange, brought his three children to the show. At home, they have an 8-foot by 12-foot HO railroad layout set up in their basement.

“It’s pretty significant,” Smith said. “Their grandpa worked overtime setting it up. We are lucky we have room for it.”

For more information on the DuPage Division Midwest Region of the National Model Railroad Association, look at the website, The club meets monthly at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Downers Grove.

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