Tucked away in a couple of rooms in the back of the old Commerce Junior High Gym, model trains whir around through remarkable scenes and tracks that members of the East Texas Model Railroad Club have built and rebuilt throughout the years.
They work on extensive railroad models and landscapes lining the tracks on Saturday mornings most weekends, after breakfast at McKay’s Country Kitchen on Main Street. Founding member and current president Paul Fogle said that Saturday tradition and friendships made are what have kept him interested and invested in the club.
“I’m going to use a phrase from LeRoy Hickey: The camaraderie,” Fogle said citing a member and long-time Greenville mailman who passed away in May. “There are a bunch of good people in this club and we all get along and that doesn’t happen very often. We all poke fun at each other just like a bunch of kids do.”
Each one of the club’s 14 train-enthusiasts has brought a different set of skills and knowledge to the club that has kept it active since 1986. Fogle named several members, current and past, that have contributed to the projects throughout the years while pointing out details, like the lights that automatically switch from green to red at intersections when trains pass through. Treasurer of the club Ron Means has built scenes along the railroads that include houses, stores and more.
“I like all of it but I’m working on a house right now that I’ve been working on for six months because I keep laying it off,” Means said with a chuckle. “It usually takes about a week with getting it all together and painting it.”
Spending time tinkering with models and constructing sets revived an interest in trains for Means and Fogle that started when they got their first trains as kids and had receded as they outgrew the toys. Now, the club has provided them an avenue to rekindle the interest in the hobby and explore the details of model trains and railroads while making friends along the way.
“When I was little my grandparents gave us a model layout and we outgrew that and forgot about it,” Means said. “Later in life I started looking at it again and started collecting cars and locomotives, but I never really ran anything until I got here and saw this and had an opportunity to run my cars and locomotives.”
Club members don’t just focus on building trails to run trains continuously in circles - they save that for exhibits at train shows - they build problems into their sets so operators can simulate a real train operation.
“We design this layout so that we could operate,” Fogle said. “We try to put problems in for a real operation session to where you have to do some thinking to get from point A to point B and drop your load off.”
Although they moved into the back of the gym in 2004, they never truly finish building layouts as they continuously update and redesign them as members form ideas about how they can switch up the train tracks, landscapes or city skylines along the tracks.
“We’ll have something come up in a couple of months and someone will want to change something and we will because we have a great time,” Fogle said.
The model railroad club hosts open houses throughout the year and has recently prepared for them by cleaning and tuning the models and putting up signage so that visitors can find them in the back of the gym. They held an open house during the Bois D’Arc Bash a couple of weeks ago and are having another open house this Saturday, which coincides with the Fall Plano Train Show hosted by the North Texas Council of Railroad Clubs.
“The Plano show is being held this Saturday and we’ll have an open house for it,” Fogle said. “We usually don’t have very many people come in during that show but for the Bois D’Arc Bash a couple of weeks ago we had 48 people come in; that’s the best that we’ve ever had.”
The club’s open house is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday at the old Commerce Junior High Gym, located at 1512 Pecan St. in Commerce.
“We’ve got a wide variety of people that can add a whole bunch,” Fogle said. “We’re always open to new members and we are well established and have a bunch of good guys in the club.”