June 13, 2014 |

Building a world in miniature

In the lower level of the Frank DeRosa Railroad Museum lies a model world that dwarfs the model trains upstairs.

Eric Seidle
Eldon Mooney inspects the model railway track before he powers up the cars for the Pacific Junction Railroad Club\'s weekly train run Tuesday.

The model train scene built in the lower level of the building was started in 2001 by the Pacific Railroad Junction Club, which also maintains it. The model was made operational in 2004.

The building in which the museum is located used to be a Chinese restaurant, before that Stockman's Bar, and before that, Hub's Clothing Store. The building, which also houses the Havre Beneath the Streets office and gift shop, was acquired in 1998. The upstairs tracks were started the same year and made operational in 1999. Frank DeRosa, for whom the museum is named, was a member of the club and a major player in construction of both the models.

Since the museum became operational, more has been added every year.

Eldon Mooney moved to Havre in 1987 and brought with him his passion for model trains. He worked as a brakeman and switchman for BNSF Railway Inc. for 20 years efore retiring and has replaced working for the train to making models of it.

"You're never done working on it," Mooney said. "That's what I like about it."

His wife makes a lot of the scenery for Mooney's train models - for the museum and Mooney's own personal model at his home.

Clarence Hennings has been making model trains since 1953 and moved to Havre in 1996.

"My kids hate the hobby and my wife tolerates it," Hennings said. "But I like it."

Hennings said that making model trains is just a hobby.

"It's not intensive, it's a hobby," Hennings said. "You do it when you want."

Mooney agreed with Hennings explaining why you could not get burned out on making the sets.

"If you can't figure out what you're doing, you come back to it," Mooney said.

The model downstairs in the museum is complex, with many small, intricate details. The world ranges from the smallest details like dogs sleeping next to buildings and couples walking through wooded parks to a large spiralling helix the trains travel up to get to an upper level of the model.

Each of the roughly nine members of the club have a different project that they are working on at any given time.

Hennings was working on putting tiny people figurines in passenger cars to create scenes inside the cars.

While the club members are working on their projects, they do a lot of talking and fooling around, Hennings said.

Each of the model trainmakers has their own style of train they like to build, Hennings said. He grew up in the midwest, so his trains are models of actual midwest rail companies and styles of trains one would find in the area.

"It depends on what era you're modeling, too," Hennings said.

The tables upon which the trains run are fully wired to provide electricity to the rails. During the winter, club member Tom Robinson installed lights in the buildings that the tracks run past and streetlights on the streets of the model towns.

"This hobby's really changed over the years," Hennings said. "There are only three companies that put kits together anymore."

Hennings said this limits possible new hobbyists from partaking because it is difficult for them to get started without a kit. The club at the museum has a catalog from which they order each part. From this catalog, enthusiasts can create many different scenes with many different styles of trains, but this method may be daunting for those just getting into the hobby.

With military outposts from different eras, coal mines, farms and towns available, enthusiasts can recreate any scene found next to an actual railroad.

The club meets every Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the museum, 120 3rd Ave., before heading down to the lower level of the building. Mooney said everyone is invited to partake, but to join the club, it costs $25 initially and then $25 each year after that. The membership includes the whole household, Mooney said.

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