More than Toy Trains: Along the Way

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Sometimes the hobbies we choose as kids fade away as we grow up.
But on the other hand, sometimes our childhood hobbies end up lasting a lifetime.
Now, we go "Along the Way" to meet a man who shows us model railroading is more than toy trains.

In the basement beneath the Stockgrowers Association in downtown Rapid City, there's a marvelous miniature world...It's the home of the Black Hills Railway Society...a model railroading club that features far more than trains, but also the places those trains travel, what they chug past on the tracks of their little world.

Mike Wolff, President of the Black Hills Railway Society says, "It's just a fascinating hobby, you can do anything that you want within the limits of your imagination and of course your checkbook."

These days Mike Wolff is the President of the Club. He says the clubs been around since the mid 1980's in various locations, but it's been based right here for quite a few years now.

Mike Wolff says, "I grew up not far from a railroad yard and I was always fascinated with them, and then one Christmas I got my own train and it just snowballed from there. "

He's been interested in model railroading off and on ever since then...He says he joined the club about 15 years ago. There are a lot of folks who put in a lot of time on this impressive underground train,a scaled down version of the real thing. They run 3 different scales, or sizes of trains here. The biggest they use is the O scale, H-O is midsized, and the smallest they run is called N scale. The club has about 30 members with quite a range in age.

Wolff says, "I would say a few years ago our average age was probably 60 or more. Now like I said we've got anywhere from 18 years old to a couple of people in their upper 80's."

He says they're in a major remodel stage right now...but even without the trains running, it's quite a sight to see. Over the years members have incorporated a lot of real local landmarks into their layout: everything from the Hotel Alex Johnson rising above the skyline, and the grain elevators we pass so often over on Omaha Street, to Who's Hobby House with a long history of its own.
Members work on it when they can, and with plenty of minds working on it, there's a lot of creativity here.

"There's a lot of interesting stuff down here. You can walk around here all day and not see everything," he says.

And that includes the dinosaurs at a tourist attraction called 'Jurassic Pork'. From the totally imaginary: to events that could really happen.

Mike Wolff, Black Hills Railway Society says, (Clip 5 at 5:32 ), "But you got the guys loading cattle and a couple of them escaped and the fence, truck went through the fence over there," Wolff says.

While many of the buildings are made from kits, some are not. A lot of the scenery is handmade...including he says, all the mountains.

"We make a lot of our own trees. Here's a clothesline if you will where we've gotten little twigs sprayed glue on them, sprinkled foliage on there, different shapes, different colors," Wolff says.

"One of the members built this trestle, 1 stick at a time, " he says.

The landscape is put together with dazzling detail. Turns out model railroading is a whole lot more than the trains themselves.

Wolff says, "Alot of people. Alot of work. Alot of hours."

They usually hold a couple open houses every year.
He says their next one is set for December 2nd.

If you've met someone cool "Along the Way" please call us or e-mail me at stevel@blackhillsfox.com to let us know.