The first-ever show on Whidbey Island for a local model train club is on track to be a success.
Since its inception in 2008, the Pacific Northwest On30 Modules Group has traveled to shows all around the state to display handmade sections of track, which, when synced up together, creates a path for a model train to travel.
The group, which is composed of some members from South Whidbey, spent time last week setting up a total of 26 connecting modules at the Little Brown Church in Clinton for an exhibition that is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 10-11.
On Dec. 3, the show’s first day, nearly 300 visitors came by to watch the trains. Admission to the exhibition is free, and canned goods or cash donations for Good Cheer Food Bank are encouraged. From noon to 2 p.m. each day, Santa Claus will make an appearance.
Clinton resident Alan Murray is the head of the Pacific Northwest On30 Modules Group, which has about 13 active members. About half of the group’s modules are on display in this South Whidbey train show – the other half are in Long Beach, Washington, where another group member resides.
Murray explained that the group uses a scale of one-quarter inch to the foot, known as On30, when creating modules. Most people in the club make their own modules that depict real and imagined scenes from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, such as logged forests, seafood processing plants, the Nemah Valley Cranberry Bog and the Olympia train station. The latter replica is made by Murray, who grew up in the state’s capital.
Each historical scene sits upon a plywood box outfitted with the necessary wiring to make the train navigate the track, which snakes around the room in a formation referred to as “point-to-point.”
“It’s not a loop,” Murray said. “Trains don’t run that way, do they?”
It can take the train as long as one hour to move from start to finish. A rotating turntable gets it moving in the other direction once it reaches the end.
“That’s part of the fun of narrow gauge, is going slow,” he said.
According to Murray, narrow gauge locomotives were built for rough terrain and not designed to move fast. Many were made for logging in the mountains.
Murray has heard that there was once a logging train on South Whidbey, which ran for several years until a deadly accident occurred. He’s unsure if the tracks ever made it out to one of the former sawmills on the island.
“Somebody told me there’s still chunks of railroad down in the gulley,” he said.
Alas, none of the club’s modules depict a scene on Whidbey Island.