June 2, 2020

For a hobby in miniature, it fills a big hall.

Model trains and their aficionados collected at Bingemans on Sunday, Nov. 3 for the twice-annual Kitchener Model Train Show.

The event, with a host of vendors and four model railways overflowing from Marshall Hall, was a chance for anyone from the curious to grizzled veterans of the scale rails to make a junction with the model railway world.

“It’s a hands-on hobby, so it’s kind of nice to actually tinker around with stuff,” said vendor Kat Myts of Pete’s Trains, London. “There’s so much you can do with it; you can weather things, you can take apart the trains, you can add sound, you can program, you can do layouts.”

Four travelling layouts in different scales, or model sizes, graced the event, from the rush of Greater Toronto Toy Trains’ forearm-length O-scale engines to the quiet clatter of the Peel County N’Gineers finger-long N-scale equivalents.

A Santa Fe diesel train engine operates on the Greater Toronto Toy Trains model railway.
A model train pulls cargo on the Greater Toronto Toy Trains travelling layout at the Kitchener Model Train Show at Bingemans in Kitchener, Ont., Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019.
Caleb Burney/Spoke Online

Men middle aged and older predominated in the booths and aisles.

“It’s hard to attract the younger crowd into it because it’s a hands-on sort of thing,” said vendor Dave MacDonald, not like texting or playing on the computer. And the hobbyists are aging.

“It is kind of dying down a little bit; I see the crowd here today wasn’t as big as I would have thought it might be around Christmas.”

Organizers counted at least 900 adults or teens at the show — a far cry from the about 6,000 guests at the butter tart festival held at Bingemans two weekends previous.

MacDonald said he and his wife enjoy different aspects of their large-scale outdoor layout: he running the trains and she shaping the scenery.

“Garden railroad: she does the garden; I do the railroad,” MacDonald remarked.

But the trains are a perennial delight for children, too.

“My son Leo is very interested in trains, model trains,” said visitor Stu Schellenberger. “He just enjoys putting the tracks together and figuring out how to operate them, control them, like, even when there’s little problems or glitches, he takes the time to really try to understand what’s going on and fix the problem.”

Leo interjected, “It’s never run smooth.”

As to his interest, Leo explained, “Since I was younger, I always liked trains ’cause they were so cool and — I love steam trains the most.”

He and his dad have ridden the Waterloo Central and South Simcoe historic railways, associated with St. Jacob’s and Tottenham, Ont., respectively.

Another child demonstrated an elaborate railway costume. The cardboard contraption hung from his shoulders like a backpack; when he jerked forward, it unfurled into a replica diesel train engine that encased him — on hands and knees, he became a train.

But the numbers of children were very few. Model railroading is a hobby more for those with the patience to assemble plastic kits, plant trees in styrofoam loam and sully new box cars with airbrushed dust: a solitary endeavour, till the railroader invites his friends to come run his trains.

The Kitchener Model Train Show is model railroading at its most social.

As MacDonald said, “I take a booth — it’s one table — sell some stuff and have some fun, meet some people; it’s a lot of fun.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the train event happened at Massey Hall. In fact, the event was held at Marshall Hall.

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