Train exhibit pulls back into conservatory

February 25, 2019

As the model train rounded the bend, Christian Morgan could barely contain himself.

Then he saw another train emerge from the mountain and his excitement reached a crescendo.

“It’s coming out of the tunnel, Grampa!” the 3-year-old boy cried.

Grampa, or Rob Fisher of Fort Wayne, the boy’s great-grandfather, watched patiently, making sure Christian didn’t accidentally stop one of the trains with an outstretched hand or finger.

“He thinks it’s the Polar Express,” Fisher said of the boy’s favorite movie.

The two came with family to the Great Train Connection at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory downtown Saturday.

The weekend event featuring model trains was back at the conservatory after a 13-year hiatus. Organizers expect 1,300 to come through Saturday and today.

Lon Hawkins of Decatur and Rich Anderson of Fort Wayne run the O gauge train exhibit, where Christian found so much joy.

“We’ve been doing this for over 15 years, just the two of us,” Anderson said. Both are retired from B.F. Goodrich.

Hawkins has a permanent display on his Decatur property open to anyone who wants to gaze at trains circling miniature scenery and learn or appreciate the hobby of train modeling. Firing up an interest in young people is one of their greatest hopes, they said.

“Lots of kids have come back three or four times,” Anderson said. “The parents can’t get them out of the building.”

On a much smaller scale were the N scale trains exhibited in another nook of the conservatory.

Joshua Smith of the Northeast Indiana N Scale club attended to a derailment while his son, Reilly Smith, 9, helped out. Both Smith and Doug Mertens, another member, are software engineers and taught themselves how to run the train with their cellphones.

In another room, Steve Rannells was trying to speed up the locomotive on an HO scale model train pulling 39 cars with a controller.

“It’s pulled 42 (cars) before, but it’s not pulling very good today,” Rannells said as he followed the train around a 16-foot-by-40-foot exhibit.

The HO scale exhibit is the showcase for the Three Rivers and Indiana Northern Railroad Association Inc. of Fort Wayne, another club that would welcome younger members to keep the hobby alive, members said.

Trains are given a designation indicating model size. A life-size steam locomotive is the Nickel Plate Road No. 765 that makes its home in New Haven. There are plans to build a roundhouse on the Fort Wayne riverfront, where the No. 765 will be an attraction.

“It’s 97 percent sure,” said Chris Homco, membership and outreach coordinator for the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society.

The model train exhibits will be open today from noon to 4 p.m. Cost is 3 for children ages 3 to 17 and free for children 2 and younger.