All aboard

Published 10:21 am Thursday, October 16, 2008

It’s a sight to behold at the Grand Meadow Business Center. The Rail Runners Model Railroad Club has converted an office suite into its playground.

An HO model train layout covers the spacious office suite.

The trains are at eye-level. Visitors can see them run the tracks up-close.

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Glen Damerell is there to explain the impressive train layout and talk about his fascination with that mode of transportation.

Damerell, a widower, has one son, Brian, who is an engineer at Pasadena, Calif., and designing oil refineries at the present time.

He lives in Rochester, but he is not alone: Damerell’s baby is his train collection.

“When I was about 4 or 5 years old,” began the retired engineer (mechanical; not railroad, with 38-years with 3M). “Our house in Chicago was about a half a block from the tracks, and my father worked on the railroad, so the big attraction as a child was to walk down to the end of the block and watch the trains go by.

This was during the Second World War and there was a train about every 15 minutes, and they were powered by steam locomotives.”

Chicago has elevated trains and subways, too, but it was the trains clickety-clacking down tracks that held his attention most of all or at least second to his beloved Lionel model train Christmas present as a child.

His father worked as a fireman on the Santa Fe railroad, when he was a teenager. Damerell never did.

He rode trains and developed an admiration for both trains and train men.

Today, he is one of 10 members of the Rain Runners Model Railroad Club, and they are planning a special open house Nov. 8, 9, 15, 16, at their Grand Meadow Business Center headquarters.

“Nine of the members reside in the area, but the other one has since moved to Dallas, Texas, but still belongs to the club,” he said. The elaborate layout has giant grain bins, a brewery, oil refinery, wide open spaces of the countryside, an inner city train station and a round house, where the switching track really spins slowly around to service train cars and engines.

A holding yard on the bottom of two shelves is the holding yard for extra freight cars.

Running today is the North Coast Limited, a passenger train pulled by five locomotives.

The trains are radio controlled, but the club mambas are working on making the change over to computer controlled in the future.

Damerell apologized. “It’s a work in progress. We’ve got a long ways to go,” he said. No sooner does the North Coast Limited disappear around a bend, but the Hiawatha Milwaukee passenger train appears coming in the opposite direction. Green gives way to reddish-orange train cars.

“The order of cars must be in the same arrangement as the original train was,” he said. “We try to make it as exact as we can.”

Damerell added history with his presentation.

“In order for the North Coast Limited to leave Chicago and Seattle each day, they had to have six identical trains. All with 87 cars. It took them 3-days to make the trip one way,” he said of rail passenger transportation from bygone days.

Like so many others, Damerell laments the decline and fall of the American railroad. “The demise ruined our highways and really hurt America, I believe,” he said. “The Japanese have bullet trains and so do the Europeans, but we don’t. Why is that?”

“In terms of fuel efficiency,” Damerell explained, “it’s 13 times more efficient to haul a ton of freight one mile on a railroad than it is on a semi truck on the highway.”

Rail transportation is, however, on the upswing at the Grand Meadow Business Center and Damerell obviously enjoys showing off the club’s collection.

“We’re working on an intermodal trailer terminal, where the boxes or containers would be put on flat cars for transportation to their destination,” he said sounding more like a railroad executive than a one-eighty-seventh the size of the real thing model train collector. “All this is a work in progress.”

Damerell looks and sounds like a contented man.

“It’s a good retirement hobby and I’ve made some wonderful friends, through this group, and we do things together like go to train shows at LaCrosse or Madison, Wisconsin,” he said. “I’m really enjoying myself.”

Part of the contentment for the railroad man must come from knowing the Rail Runners’ trains always run on time: their time.

Operate different trains each day

The Rail Runners Model Railroad Club will host an open house 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays, Nov. 8 and 15, and 1-5 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 9 and 16.

Admission is free.

The model train open house will be located in the Grand Meadow Business Development Center.

For more information, call Damerell at 507 252-5190 or Jim Clemons at 507 754-6820 or Wayne Vlasak at 507 285-9303.

The Rail Runners Model Railroad Club meets regularly on Mondays, but their headquarters is not open for public tours except by appointment.

The November open house will be the club’s third annual show since moving into the Grand Meadow Business Center in 2004.

November is National Model Railroad Month.

Different trains will be operated each day of the open house.

New club members are welcome to join.

School is home

to new ideas

The Grand Meadow Business Center is located at 209 Second Avenue Northeast in Grand Meadow.

Dan Hoffman, owner, calls it the “premier place to do business in the Grand Meadow area.”

Hoffman converted the former Grand Meadow Public School building (the oldest portion was demolished) into a one-level business office complex.

From 500 to over 10,000 square feet, various office spaces are available.

Several configurations are available depending upon client’s needs, according to Hoffman.

For more information, call Hoffman at 507 421-7167.