By Jackie Nelson
HESSTON – In celebration of model train month in November, Hesston Public Library is hosting Bob Neill’s time saver track.
Neill has been a model train enthusiast for decades, taking up his father’s hobby in the early 1980s.
“My first experience with trains was in Wilmington, Del.,” he said.
The family moved to the Midwest when Neill was a child. His father’s model train collection also made the journey.
“I’ve enjoyed modeling since I was a child, getting to create a copy of real life,” he said.
As a young man, Neill said, “I was threatened with money and moved out to Seattle,” to work for Boeing.
In 1982, Neill found himself with a large steamer trunk full of his father’s trains. The Boeing retiree said for many years, he tried to combine his father’s train collection with his own love of model airplanes.
“After moving to the St. Louis area, Dad never got back with trains and I ended up with a trunk under my bed with all these beautiful models,” he said.
Neill was looking for a way to display some of his father’s collection and found a group of like-minded friends who enjoyed creating model train switching modules.
The modules are train yards in miniature, with switch tracks and magnetics to attach and detach rail cars.
“I enjoy running, trying to make it operate like a real railroad, moving cars, dropping off, picking up; some guys do the operation by a time schedule,” he said.
Neill said the timed trails keep his mind sharp and are simply real world problem solving stills.
“The thing I really enjoy about the trains is, whatever your interest, it fits. If you are building scenery, you can make it as real as you’d like. You can dig into the magazines,” he said.
The wide variety of scales also allows for flexibility between detail and packing as much train as possible into a small space. Even a being a history enthusiast can be an entry point into model trains.
It also keeps his social calendar full, with model train enthusiasts meeting regularly.
“We just moved [to Hesston] this spring from Wichita and I haven’t met anyone that’s doing any modeling here in town. The last two years, I have been helping with a library display in Halstead,” he said.
This year, Neill approached Hesston Public Library about a display.
“If they would be interested, so I could corrupt – I mean – introduce a few young people,” he said.
Getting people hands-on is one of the joys of the hobby for Neill.
“It’s like cooking, when you get your fingers stuck in it, you’re stuck. There are a number of older people – seniors to teenagers – that walk by and think, ‘oh, I can’t touch that,’ but then you have the young people that just dive in,” he said.
By “putting on a show, and letting them stick their fingers in,” Neill hopes more young people will take an interest in the hobby and the richness it offers.
“We are mimicking real life. There are trains that are running around us almost every day,” he said.