The railroad has captured the hearts of many Canadians, since they first traversed the countryside in 1836.
It’s easy to see the romance in a chugging train heaving away from a station, its long, lonely whistle echoing through valleys, and the hiss of its metal wheels scraping the tracks all the way.
Then there’s the history, along with amazing feats of industrial-era engineering — clackity bridges, long spans of tracks, tunnels bored through mountainsides, and enormous, thunderous engines.
And there are the songs, stories, intrigue.
It’s no wonder there’s an entire community of model train enthusiasts, dedicated to preserving the nostalgic notions of life on the railroad. And this weekend, they’ll converge in Chilliwack.
The 18th Annual Mount Cheam Lions Train and Hobby Show rolls into Chilliwack Heritage Park for Saturday and Sunday, with several large displays, a vendor area featuring 54 sellers, interactive play areas for children, competitions and prizes.
One of the model train enthusiasts visitors may meet is Larry Sebelley, who will be set up with the local group, Coldslap Freemo. Their display is an impressive 50 by 90 foot free form modular set up. While it’s nice to be showing in their hometown, the group also packs up and heads to shows in Vancouver and Portland, California and Minnesota.
Last weekend, they went to a show in Spokane, where they took a few of their modules to connect with a group there.
Each person brings their own modulars, he explains, and while they are all different sizes and shapes, they are designed to fit together at the ends. The completed projects can end up quite large, and different every time. Unlike a stationary setup in a basement, these pieces can end up traveling all over Canada and the United States.
“Shows are where we have enough square footage,” Sebelley explains, to get together and really have some fun with their displays.
He hasn’t been a lifetime collector. Rather, he came into it after his kids grew up and left home.
“You’re looking for something to do, and you come back to it,” he says. “The thing I really like about the hobby, is you have to learn new things all the time. Ten years ago I knew nothing about electronics or soldering. I can do all that now.”
It’s a hobby that keeps you thinking, problem-solving, and creative, he adds. But there is a concern that the hobby is slipping away from the next generation, for a few reasons.
The first is the obvious fascination with new technology. Model trains take patience and more patience.
“It’s one of our big challenges in our hobby in general, it’s aging, and it’s the instant gratification thing,” he says. “(Kids) don’t get involved and that’s a challenge now.”
The other thing that’s changing, which goes hand in hand with new technology, is a shift in what’s being sold.
“There’s a movement out there where the manufacturers are building things for us that’s already built,” Sebelley.
Sure, that’s attractive to some buyers. But it sort of misses the point in building a railroad.
“It takes time,” he says. “And that’s time you have to invest.”
Sebelley seeks out Canadian Pacific Railway trains, while his wife is interested in Soo-Line American Railroad.
“Most guys will have to sneak it into the house, but I’m fortunate because my wife’s on board with this,” he says.
Getting out to the show is a must for anyone with kids interested in building things, he said. There’s always plenty for them to do. But he reminds everyone that the displays are there to look at, to learn from, and be inspired from — but not to touch.
Among the other groups at the show, there will be the LEGO Group again with their always interesting display. This year has a strong R/C car (radio controlled) presence with Rebel Concepts, a local R/C Hobby Centre taking over floor three with displays, competitions and opportunities for attendees to try out R/C cars. Owner Ron Nikkel has promised lots of entertainment, excitement and prizes.
Bastion Games is back again with a Warhammer Tournament. Owner Nathan Verde has players coming from throughout the Lower Mainland to compete for prizes. If you’re into gaming you don’t want to miss this tournament.
Every dollar raised from the Train and Hobby Show by the Mount Cheam Lions Club is donated back into the community in support of local charities.
The show runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for children, and $20 for a family. An adult two-day pass is $10.