An Epic Model Railroad Recreates The Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorgeis full of natural wonders,but barreling along its banks
are also wondersof human engineering:
trains.Combined, the power of trains
and the grandeur of the Gorgeis enough to inspire awe.For one group of Portlanders,
the combinationhas also inspired a project of
epic proportions in miniature.CHILD:
That is humongous!The Columbia Gorge Model
Railroad Clubis the biggest model railroad
in the Northwestand one of the oldest clubs
in the country.Since 1947, its members have
built a meticulous replicaof the tracks that trace
the Gorge,from Stonehenge…to Crown Point…to Union Station.There’s no way in the world
I can build something like this at my house —
couldn’t afford it. So you join up
with everybody else and we come down here
and just have a blast. [ chatter ]When the full majesty
of the railroad gets chuggingin its North Portland
warehouse,you get a sense of just how far
model trains have comefrom a circular track
in the basementwith a stop-and-go button.– This is just the entire
main line in white, and then the red spots
are tracks that are occupied by a train. It’s pretty accurate for when
you can’t see your train. It takes around 30 people to run
the entire setup, from individual conductors
to dispatchers buried deep inside the model. – What train do you have? You have the crossover
at Horse Thief. Let me know when you’re clear. The nice thing about this club is that there’s a whole variety
of people. We have some people
that all they want to do is run trains. And then there’s the opposite,
in my case, is to where I just enjoy
doing scenery.The club chose to set the model
in the 1950s,because that was a golden erawhen steam and diesel
locomotives overlapped.Members make most of the
scenery themselves,working off photos
and even architectural plans.For Cynthia Leonard, no detail
is too small.CYNTHIA There we go! This is a new animation
that we put in this year, which is chickens feeding. It’s a little magnet
that goes around and makes them peck. There’s something about
recreating the world in a very small sort of way. It makes it very manageable. AARON SCOTT: Do you ever have
fantasies of King Kong or Godzilla? [ laughs ] Yeah, everybody —
that’s one thing that we’re always talking about, is, like, walking across like
Godzilla, actually, and yeah, doing the whole
Tokyo bit, yeah.Like Godzilla, trains
are captivating in partbecause of their size
and power.They roll over the landscape,
reshaping the mountainsand cities around them.There’s something rather awesome about these massive, huge
machines that are moving tons of material
and people, and they’re elegant.The goal of the club
feels like a paradox, then,to replicate that same sense
of aweon the smallest of scales.[ train whistling ] – Oh! That’s not moving.That requires not only
realistic-looking scenery,but also an intricate web
of electronics and soundscapesthat hides just out of sight.I have just completed wiring
all of the headlights, taillights, and streetlamps
on this section of bridge. They’re a low-voltage DC light-emitting diode type
wiring. So don’t look at this
and say, my god, I would never let him
wire my house. This is a little different.It’s a constant process
of tinkering and upgradesthat feels like you crammed
all the Christmas presentsfor 130 train nerds
into one giant room.They’ve recently upgraded
the trackfrom analog to digitalso operators can control
any trainfrom anywhere in the setup.[ train whistle blows ]And they’re constantly tryingto make the scenery more
accurateby adding things like the
Native fishing platformsat Celilo Falls.The emphasis on new technology
and changemeans that the club continues
to attract new members.The stereotype is old,
retired white guys. There’s quite a bit of truth
to that. But the hobby is expanding. You know, my father
used to wake me up and say, “Train’s going by.” And I would get up
and watch the train. I did that to my grandson. And look what he’s doing now. I have to go over
to the power and then when we
turn on the layout, flip a switch that turns on
all the building lights, and then this whole board
should light up. Well, check it out. Which ones did you do? Um, I did basically this
whole street right here, all the houses. The church is lit up
right now. Oh, yeah. The drug store
is lit up. That looks good! Good job! Thank you.Club members put in thousands
of hours of work every year,but it’s with one big moment
in mind:November, when they throw open
the doors to the publicfor their annual fundraiser.There goes another one! There’s the fast one!
They go so fast. – Since he was one year old,
we’ve been coming to the trains. He knows all the bridges
in Portland. That’s the Broadway Bridge
over there. That’s the Steel Bridge
over there. It has a yellow level.It’s nearly impossible to take
in every scene in detail.– Oh, they’re moving! The chickens are moving!So club members have drawn up
a scavenger huntwith some of their favorite
items,plus some sci-fi Easter eggs.– Find the lookout towers. – Find the lookout! – So that would probably be —
wouldn’t that be up on the top of the hills? – Is that another dinosaur
up there? I can’t tell. CYNTHIA: We have things kind
of just as a little wink and a nod to the fact
that this is a hobby. It’s not work. Let’s have fun.Just as the beauty
of the Columbia Gorgehas been preserved
for generations to come,the Columbia Gorge model
railroad clublooks to drawing in
these emerging train loversto keep their model railroad
runningfull steam into the future.ISAAC: That way we constantly
have younger members coming up through the system,
learning how to do things, so when it comes their time,
they get to take over as we move on
off into the sunset. Back to the caboose
and down the track, you know? [ laughs ] [ train whistle blows ] [ train chugging ]

27 thoughts on “An Epic Model Railroad Recreates The Columbia River Gorge

  1. The Scavenger Hunt is a great idea! I'm going to propose it to our "club", the Monterey and Salinas Valley Railroad Museum at the next meeting. Great filming and comparisons to the real sites!

  2. Why do they have to be nerds because the have a hobby they enjoy though? This is cool. I wish I could find other people who collect 118 scale car they customize them as I do and form a club with different ideason what you can do to them. I guest I'm a nerd to. 😁

  3. I was going to praise the video. then I saw that it was a professional job (It's still outstanding). As for the layout, it makes me almost sorry I live in Florida. Good show, girls and boys!

  4. Great Video! Glad to see young and old and all nationalities, working together for something they love doing!!

  5. I volunteer at a local short tourist railroad by the Canadian border in WA, and I'm trying to find teenagers my age to come out and volunteer but it can be tought. I'm currently working on posters to draw people in.

  6. I love the fact that they were letting the kids get hands on. And they do such great work creating a small world.

  7. Way to go – building a fine-fine layout and future generations of Model Railroaders at the same time!

  8. 1947. I was born in 1947. Too bad but my New York Society of model engineers has been in existence since 1926..yes 1926

  9. 5:20 – was that a runaway? A very fast train, but no locomotive, just freight cars.

  10. i love to see the young and the old .. growing together and this hobby as the tie

  11. Outstanding, just outstanding!! This is a great mix on so many levels, but the best is to see young and old, black and white, women and men working together in this hobby we all love so much. Thank you for sharing this video and what some are doing to not just build a layout, but build a community that will last forever that's inclusive of everyone!! Thank you Thank you

  12. I actually visited this place when I was up there for school, my roommate and I almost got lost just walking around this place, we almost want to move up there just for that layout and hobby shop around. I highly recommend anyone, train enthusiast or not, just to visit.

  13. Thanks for the great coverage of our club. If you are interested in learning more, visit

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