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Rogue Valley Railroad Show looks to new generations

The sights of mechanized joy on rails drew hundreds of kids and kids-at-heart to the Jackson County Expo, but the organizers behind the Rogue Valley Railroad Show say they could use more than a few more grownups to join their ranks and keep the trains running on time.

The 42nd annual railroad show, the sole fundraiser for the Medford Railroad Park, was a chance for four organizations to celebrate four decades of keeping the park in operation, as well as a chance to draw in newcomers so they can keep the momentum going.

Matt Knauss said that he became president of Southern Oregon Live Steamers after only six months with the club that provides the free miniature train rides at the railroad park between April and October. He’s been led the club for the past two years.

“There wasn’t any competition to it,” Knauss said.

As a lifelong Southern Oregonian born in the 1970s, Knauss said he joined the club because he remembers growing up with the park and, “in my heart I wanted to see it succeed.”

While he simultaneously manned the admission table, bantered with attendees and conducted an interview, Knauss said that joining the club has been a chance for him to learn how to multi-task and make decisions on the fly. He also said he better understand the role of trains in American history.

“It’s a good learning experience,” Knauss said. “I think people need this.”

Knauss didn’t have a full member count handy, but estimated only about 20 of its members are active.

“We’re hurtin’,” Knauss said, adding that his club isn’t the only one.

Medford Garden Railroaders club member Shane Waggoner concurred that his club could use more members by highlighting the controllers in both of his hands.

“I’m running two trains,” Waggoner said.

Waggoner, who has been part of the club for the past three years, said the Medford show is his “favorite time of the year,” though he also goes to Portland and Eugene so he can score deals on used trains and tracks.

New garden-size model train tracks typically cost about $10 per foot, while used tracks are less than a third of the cost; however, used trains and equipment typically need repair.

“Joining the club makes it a lot easier,” Waggoner said, adding that some club members bring electronics knowledge, while others bring mechanical or historical knowledge.

“All the guys are really great,” Waggoner said. “It’s like one happy family.”

Kim Jamin with the Rogue Valley Model Railroad Club said she’s trying a couple different avenues to keep momentum going for the next generation. For starters, she’s using social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to spread the word about the club and the events.

The model railroad club has about 60 members but roughly half are “associates” who’ve moved out of town and are no longer active.

“We’re trying to expand,” Jamin said. “We need more people.”

Beyond social media, Jamin works to draw in new generations by hosting a hands-on display at kid-level height that youngsters are free to handle.

Jamin said she loves showing children how to use the train controllers’ throttles, and watching kids’ “eyes light up” when they switch the model’s railroad crossing guards for the first time.

For folks interested in dipping their toes in the hobby, she recommends starting with box sets that go for roughly $100, and then perhaps looking into modifying the layouts by making trees and adding rocks. As another low-key introduction, Jamin said YouTube is filled with tutorials.

The railroad show continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1, at the Jackson County Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point. Admission is $5 for adults, $1 for children ages 6-12 and children 5 and younger are admitted free. For info about the event, see Facebook.com/roguevalleyrailroadshowmedfordpark.

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

Carol Koszyk, right, of Medford, and her grandson Nico King, 3, react to an approaching locomotive at the Rogue Valley Railroad Show Saturday in Central Point. Photo by Denise Baratta