Model railroad enthusiast Stephen Miller says the more you look, the more you see.
There’s a guy tipping over an outhouse in one corner, a car set on the rooftop of the fire station as a prank to the chief in another section of town, and there’s even dinosaur fossils being excavated around the bend.
In a clubhouse tucked in an industrial park in Alachua, dozens of scenes built to match historic photos taken in the area are perched around 700 feet of winding miniature railroad tracks that are 1/87th the size of actual railroads.
The elaborate setup represents thousands of hours of effort. Members of the North Central Florida Model Railroad Club (NCFMRC) put in those hours, and now they are inviting the public to come see their work.
Miller serves as the layout administrator for the NCFMRC, which he said started about 20 years ago.
“They used to move this out and display it in different places,” Miller said during a recent tour of the facility. Sections of the miniature town were built separately and then pieced together.
“Each member would take a section home and build a scene,” Miller said.
At one time, the train operation would be put on display at local libraries or museums. It’s built with HO scale trains, which Miller said are considered to be actual train operations, just not full size.
“Real purists consider this model railroading not toy trains,” Miller said. “They have places to go and things to pick up and they do it on a time schedule.”
Even the clock at the club runs to scale. According to Miller, 10 minutes is 87 minutes.
“So you have X amount of time to get stuff from here to there,” he said.
In the clubhouse, visitors will see some familiar places.
“Some of the buildings represent old businesses in Alachua,” Miller said, explaining that fellow members do their homework. “They take photographs of actual locations, buildings and tracks and then build it to scale.”
Since joining a year ago, Miller has donated a computer-run train system that takes up a corner of the building. He modeled it after a logging operation and placed it in a fictitious town near Flagstaff, Ariz.
“It’s a high mountain logging operation complete with trestles and bridges,” Miller said, adding that it took more than 3,000 hours to build, including making his own rocks out of plaster from molds and painting the details.
Miller said he fell in love with trains as a kid visiting the Sierra Foothills and the idea of building a model stuck with him.
“I remember seeing my first steam engine with gears and stuff going on,” he said. “I was hooked.”
Miller and the rest of the members of the NCFMRC want to share their passion and hard work with the community and invite visitors to schedule an appointment or drop by during club hours.
According to member Rich Walker, who has been working on trains with the NCFMRC for 11 years, members are at the clubhouse operating trains from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Thursday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon. On the first Saturday of the month they have extended operating hours of 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
On Wednesdays, enthusiasts can bring their own HO scale engine to try out the tracks.
Walker said the club welcomes field trips for students who might want to learn about how trains operate and about topics such as basic electricity, woodwork and construction, and the art of building scenery, plus engineering the trains with computer programming.
The club is located in the Copeland Industrial Park at 13101 Rachael Blvd in Alachua.
For more information about the club or to schedule a tour, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or call 352-871-4973 or 954-303-2492.
The club is also launching a new website soon at www.NCFMRC.org