The Holiday Model Railroad Exhibit rolls into the station at the Western Museum of Mining & Industry on Saturday, and according to museum volunteer Johnnie Zeornes, it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.
“We’ll have a variety of different size trains, O gauge trains and HO gauge trains, and different types from the modern diesel all the way back to the steam engine,” Zeornes said, “plus a holiday scene with trains around the tree for the kids. It’s a fun exhibit for children of all ages, from 7-70.”
Museum director Richard Sauers said the trains were collected from many sources.
“These are coming together from staff members, volunteers and museum members,” he said. “The model trains range from Thomas the Tank Engine to specialty trains from the late 1950s and early ’60s. We have an older model that was made by the train owner’s grandfather, who owned a mining company in Denver. He and his employees built the metal train, which has a mining theme, from scratch.”
Zeornes, a third-generation Colorado Springs native who worked in the mining industry as a teen, believes the exhibit is an appropriate display for the museum.
“The railroad was an important part of mining, and that’s why it fits so well with the mining museum,” Zeornes said. “Railroads brought in heavy equipment that allowed mines to get larger, and they carried the ore from the mines to other places. A train ran from Cripple Creek to the Springs to do the milling at Golden Cycle Mill, and when you hike around here you might be hiking over old train tracks. People tend to forget about all the train-related history of our state because it’s not as big as it used to be, but trains influenced the growth of industry, tourism, and the growth of the United States. They’re still an important part of our transportation system.”
Admission to the exhibit is included with the cost of admission to the museum, and Sauers said there is much for visitors to see and do beyond the trains.
“You can take in one of our two films that last about 20 minutes and get a guided tour,” he said. “You’ll learn how to pan for gold and can keep what you find. We run our machines during our guided tours so you can see everything from a jackhammer that miners used earlier last century to a 34-ton cordless steam engine that shows how these engines aided the mining industry.”
According to Sauers, the exhibit will be of interest to “children, model train buffs, toy collectors and anybody who has a love of trains.” Visitors can purchase kids’ souvenir trains, books, helmets and science kits from the gift shop, and the museum also stocks sluices and other gold recovery equipment.
This is the first time the museum has hosted a model train exhibit in many years, Sauers said. “They’ve had them in the past, but not in the four years that I’ve served as director. We decided to revive it this year,” he said.
If the exhibit is a popular enough, the museum could make it an annual event. That would be a welcome addition for volunteers like Zeornes, who’s building a large display for his own trains in his home.
“The platform will take up most of a 20-by-16-foot room. I enjoy doing the construction, building the landscapes and tinkering with the trains,” he said. “My wife calls it my hideaway, but model trains are a good way for me to keep my mind happy and active, and I like that other people enjoy them as much as I do. I don’t run the trains a lot for myself, but I run them for my two granddaughters when they come to visit. They enjoy the daylights out of it.”