Gandy Dancers model their trains at St. James HotelMore than a hobby, collecting model trains is a passion for the Gandy Dancers.
By: Ruth Nerhaugen, The Republican Eagle
More than a hobby, collecting model trains is a passion for the Gandy Dancers.
A passion that members of the Red Wing train club enjoy sharing - especially with kids and especially at Christmas time.
For the fifth year, the Gandy Dancers will run model trains Friday during the Holiday Stroll and on weekends until Christmas.
Club members, who took their name from the slang term for the men who maintained railroad tracks in the years before the work was done by machines, are packing up their trains and their handmade layouts and moving them to the St. James Hotel.
This year, the trains will be on the mezzanine above the hotel courtyard. Hours are 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, then noon to 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday until Christmas.
Large railroad crossing signs will be set up in the hotel to direct people to the train layouts, said Jerry Dooley, one of the founding members of the club.
"We'll be running as many as 10 trains at one time," he said - from the small N gauge to the large O gauge, plus inbetween-size HO and S gauge models.
Among the featured trains will be Thomas the Tank and a Santa train.
At any time, visitors will find some of the 18 club members stationed in the mezzanine, happy to talk about the trains most have been collecting for decades.
"We'll have trains dating from the late 1940s to the current year," Dooley added - including his very first train, a Lionel, which he found under the Christmas tree in 1948.
"I focus on the Burlington Railroad - the CB&Q or Chicago Burlington & Quincy," he said. The Chicago native explained, "I used to take the Burlington from Chicago to school in Winona, Minn.," as a college student.
He didn't become a model train hobbyist until about 12 years ago, Dooley said. He and three others, including Tom Oelkers, founded the local club in 2001.
Oelkers runs mostly O gauge trains, and he will bring his favorite Milwaukee Road train to the St. James.
"When I was a kid," he explained, "that's what we saw going through town."
He became a collector about 10 years ago.
Ron Loge, who likes the smaller HO gauge models, has only been a member for about a year, but he, too, has had a passion for trains since he was a boy.
His first train, a Christmas present when he was about 10, was a Great Northern Steamer, Loge said. But he also likes other Upper Midwestern railroads.
"My father worked for the Milwaukee Road for 43 years," he said. In addition to that rail line, Loge said his favorites include the Minneapolis & St. Louis.
Some collectors have their own layouts, but they all also share in the layouts that fill a room at the Red Wing Senior Center, 1407 W. Fourth St. The senior organization is the group's sponsor.
More than a dozen members have helped build the layouts, Dooley said.
The biggest permanent layout - it won't be one of the four they plan to set up at the St. James - was built "to remind people of Red Wing," he said. It's complete with a bridge and a bluff, the depot, Red Wing Milling Co. and other familiar features.
Members will bring their personal trains to the holiday exhibit, plus club-owned trains will run on the tracks. The club accepts donations of trains people no longer have need of - or room for - at home.
The mission, simply put, is "to share the fun, creativity and experiences of model railroading with others, young and old," according to the train club's website, www.redwingtc.com. "Historians, hobbyists, travelers, railroaders and dreamers are welcome. All aboard!" There are no dues or fees.
The Gandy Dancers meet from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays at the Senior Center, or people can call 651-267-3599 to arrange a visit.