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Railroaders pull together at Railroad Park

Born and raised in Holland, John Gerritsma was surrounded by trains.

As a kid, he and his dad made a papier mache tunnel for his model train set, coating the outside with green-colored sawdust to mimic grass.

As an adult, he’s helped make thousands of miniature trees and painted backdrops for a sprawling, highly realistic model railroad that is a fantasy come to life for anyone who’s ever played with a train set.

The Rogue Valley Model Railroad Club’s elaborate creation is housed in its own building at the Medford Railroad Park, 799 Berrydale Ave.

The park is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. the second and fourth Sunday of each month from April through October. It’s home to the Rogue Valley Model Railroad Club, Southern Oregon Live Steamers, Medford Garden Railroaders and Southern Oregon Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.

Members of the Rogue Valley Model Railroad Club have been working on their model railroad since 2003.

In real life, various railroad companies were hit with financial setbacks in the 1900s that ended efforts to build a railroad line stretching from Medford to Klamath Falls.

The club has modeled a “what if” scenario in which a 1989-era railroad line actually does reach all the way between the two cities, passing through White City, Eagle Point, Butte Falls and over the Cascade Mountains to Klamath Falls.

Their model train goes over bridges and passes swimmers in a creek, a metal scrapyard, a rock quarry, a fire station, a trailer park, lumber mills, fire lookouts, trucks, cars, houses, a water tower and much more.

“We have to do selective compression,” says member Jerry Hellinga, noting the proportions of many scenes and buildings have to be altered and shrunk to make them fit the layout. However, most retain historically accurate details.

Hellinga also had a train set as a boy, although his mom gave it away when he went to college.

The club members have backgrounds in everything from truck driving to working for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

“We have the collective experience to help in making these scenes very realistic,” says Gerritsma.

Since Southern Oregon has plentiful forests, and a finished railroad line would have served the timber industry in 1989, forests and logging sites figure prominently in the layout.

“I don’t recall any (model railroad) clubhouse with as many trees as we do,” Gerritsma says of various clubs across the country that have their own elaborate layouts.

Members estimate they have made about 5,000 evergreen and deciduous trees, with most made out of skewers, sticks and material from furnace filters.

These aren’t production-line, look-alike trees. Snags, trees with reddened needles from insect infestation or drought, small trees, mature trees and bushes all add variety.

Three-dimensional mountains and hills, plus painted backdrops of landmarks such as the Table Rocks and the Palisades cliffs, add to the realism.

“It’s really a study in geography and forest systems and landscapes in general,” says Gerritsma, who painted many of the backdrops.

Members have taken field trips to scout existing rail lines and see where tracks would have continued on their way to Klamath Falls.

“We’ve been all over the area where most of the railroad would have run,” said E. Don Pettit, who as a baby crawled across railroad tracks to see a locomotive that had caught his interest. Fortunately, no train came along.

On one scouting mission, members got peppered with golf balls from a nearby driving range.

“It was like we needed hard hats,” Gerritsma says.

True to form, members added tiny figurines of golfers to their layout.

At the end of the railroad track in Klamath Falls, club members have added a touch of humor with a locomotive that ran off the tracks and sits partially submerged in modeled water.

Members are still at work on the layout, devising, revising and trouble-shooting plans for more scenes.

“We’ve got a lot to do yet,” Pettit says.

Members say both kids and adults enjoy watching the model train make its journey along the tracks.

“People have been really, really good about not touching it. We had one engine stolen one time off the layout. People are very appreciative of being close to the model,” Gerritsma says.

For more information on the club, see rvmrc.net.

In addition to visiting the Rogue Valley Model Railroad Club’s building at the railroad park, visitors can see a massive outdoor layout by the Medford Garden Railroaders that includes water features, Thomas the Tank Engine and Harry Potter layouts, and intricate model bridges, towns and mountains.

Fans of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series will recognize many features from the books, including Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Hagrid’s house, the Whomping Willow tree and a dragon.

The Medford Garden Railroaders focus on outdoor train layouts that are integrated into yards and gardens. For more information about the club, including a membership application and a tutorial on building your own outdoor layout, see medfordgardenrailroaders.org.

Reduced-scale train rides offered by the Southern Oregon Live Steamers are another major draw at the Medford Railroad Park.

Diesel and steam locomotives pull kids and adults on rides that last about nine minutes and cover more than a mile of track. The small trains traverse tunnels, bridges, hills and other features.

More information is available at www.southernoregonlivesteamers.com.

For people who want to see full-sized trains, the Southern Oregon Railway Historical Society displays locomotives, cabooses, a box car, a flat car, an ore car and other railroad artifacts at the Medford Railroad Park.

See www.soc-nrhs.org for more information.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Railroaders pull together at Railroad Park