It’s “All aboard” for members of the Rhinelander Railroad Association (RRA). These model train experts are busy setting up a unique attraction that is sure to delight young and old throughout the holiday season and possibly beyond.
Trig’s RiverWalk Centre will be home to six model train scenarios the RRA is constructing, not only to showcase this hobby, but hopefully to raise money for a train that’s a bit larger than those circling the tracks at Trig’s. “The train at Pioneer Park is in desperate need of repair,” said Jim Brown, president of the RRA. “In particular, the passenger car is in really bad shape.”
Last year, members of this association decided to construct a large model train project in a store front in downtown Rhinelander. That was the brainchild of RRA member Tom Kohlbeck, who had started the project in his garage. When space was needed for parking a car, the group turned to Tim Biermeier, who had an empty spot next to his Northwestern Lounge in downtown Rhinelander.
The group got busy and built a mammoth model train scenario that included 100 feet of track and was set on 10 sturdy tables forming a circle. “We wanted to be able to take it apart and move it if we had too,” said Jim, “and it ended up that we had to.”
When Biermeier rented out the space, the group turned to Trig Solberg and his staff at his store in Rhinelander. “I can’t tell you how grateful we are that Trig’s has let us come here,” said Jim. “Everyone has been nothing but kind. They have been very generous.”
Almost every day, RRA members come to this new location that is spacious, well-lit and welcoming. They have moved the sturdy tables in and the model train diorama is taking shape. Already there are scenes in place that depict a Northwoods lake, complete with a tiny car trailering a boat and a little camper. The room is redolent with the smell of pine, as the members want to decorate trees for an even more festive look. In addition to the large model train scene, there will be smaller ones set up as well.
And while last year the group was eager to showcase their hobby, this year they hope to make some money to help defray the costs of the repairs to the large train on display at the Logging Museum in Pioneer Park. “That museum draws between 7,000 and 10,000 people a year,” said Bob Lake, vice president of RRA. “We’ve had people from all over the world visit.”
Members of the RRA staff the museum and all are aware of the big train’s condition. “It’s worth fixing,” said Bob. “The passenger car was built by Fred Rhinelander back in the late 1890s. In its day, it was very modern. It had pressurized water, which most homes didn’t even have. But it’s also part of Rhinelander’s history.”
Currently, the passenger car sits with a tarp over the roof because the top came off last year. “We figure it will probably cost about $180,000 to repair the entire train, including the passenger car,” said Bob.
While viewing the trains is free, the RRA will have a fundraiser at their new location. On Saturday, Dec. 15, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., kids can have lunch with Santa for $5. The group is planning to provide pictures with Santa for a small contribution to the train project.
Visitors are welcome anytime to watch the progress, provided the doors are open, but RRA members are hoping to be officially open on Sat., Nov. 30, from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Other dates include Dec. 1 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.; Dec. 8 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Dec. 15 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and an open house is planned Sunday, Dec. 16, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The display will be open weekdays from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. At any time Santa could be on the premises. “We invite anyone to come and watch the trains,” said Brown. “This is such a great hobby and we want everyone to be able to enjoy the trains as much as we do.”