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Choo-choo-riffic fun

It takes a certain kind of patience to laugh it off when a train set worth thousands of dollars goes off the rails.

For the third time in 10 minutes, Medford Garden Railroaders member Mike Miller of Central Point calmly adjusted a large-scale Southern Pacific Daylight Special derailed at a wide corner in the club's display at the 38th annual Rogue Valley Model Railroad Show Saturday at the Medford Armory. Miller dialed back numbers on an LCD screen before attending to the train itself on the display. 

"I'm not a fan of hook-and-loop couplers," Miller said of the plastic hardware connecting cars to the engine. 

Miller's patience with the train can be attributed to 63 years of experience with the hobby. He got his first train set when he was 3 years old, but it was the weekend of Thanksgiving 1999 when Miller joined Medford Garden Railroaders.

For that troublesome train, the club typically prefers to switch the hardware on the models to more robust Kadee couplers, but volunteers haven't yet made the switch since the Southern Pacific Daylight Special was added to the club's collection last year. Spanning over 15 feet, with an engine and eight connecting cars, the large-scale orange and black model is of the passenger train that ran from Los Angeles to Seattle in the 1940s and '50s and was part of a collection valued at $30,000 donated to the club.

"That one engine is about $600," Miller said, pointing to the front of the train. Controllers, track pieces, sound cards and other pieces catering to the hobbyist's whims are all sold separately.

It took Medford Garden Railroaders members eight hours to arrange their annual display Friday, illustrating the time and expense that goes into a show that attracts spectators by the thousands.

Young children wore train conductor's caps and stared at the intricate, often handmade setups while their parents, grandparents and other grownups pointed in awe Saturday. The show, an annual fundraiser for the clubs and organizations that make up the train displays at Medford's Railroad Park, runs Saturdays and Sundays the weekend after Thanksgiving and draws in local organizations and model railroad clubs from other parts of the state. The show continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 1701 S. Pacific Highway.

Among the most inviting train displays for young and old alike was one made out of Legos by the Moscaritolo family of Medford. Young children carefully grabbed M&M's and jelly beans from inside the train cars.

"I build, like, all of the houses," said Kara Moscaritolo, 10. Among them included a meticulous house that had yellow pieces carefully assembled in gray building blocks to spell the word "Shop" above a curved doorway. She said some of the buildings could be built by devoting a day to the project, but more typically she assembles them gradually because she's focused on other activities. Her 13-year-old brother, TR, focuses on the complex trains and tracks.

This is the eighth year the kids have participated in the display. In the early years it was spearheaded initially by their father, Vinnie Moscaritolo, who wanted to get the kids involved in the hobby before opting to work together with something not as fragile as typical model trains.

"If they crash, we just put it back together again," Vinnie Moscaritolo said of the Legos.

Despite its playful appearance, the Moscaritolos' display is far from simple. Vinnie said the hobby gives his kids strong problem-solving skills as they adapt pieces beyond their intended use to meet their need.

"They have to solve all these mechanical problems," Vinnie said, picking up a Lego boxcar TR built and showcasing its opening doors and nuanced details.

Vinnie said the kids have taken the reins and now do all the setup. Previously built display sections are stored, and TR and Kara build new ones each year.

"It just gets built up, component by component," Vinnie Moscaritolo said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Twin brothers Kyran and Kaythen Ewald, 5, of Medford peer into the Slate Creek Railroad layout during the 38th annual Rogue Valley Railroad Show at the Medford Armory. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell
Eli Andrews, 5, and Gina and 5-year-old Xavior Erdmann of Williams check out the Legos layout at the railroad show. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell