When most students want to see something of historic value or be reminded of the Old West, they travel to Santa Ana's Bowers Museum or Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Not Glen Landin, who recently graduated from El Modena High School. He just goes home.
Landin, 18, is president and curator of the Glen Landin Railroad Museum, which houses more than 15 scale-model railroads. Located in a room off his house in Orange Park Acres, the museum is open to the public daily by appointment (except Christmas and Memorial Day).
"I got a model train as a present for Christmas," Landin remembered, "but it didn't work, so I went to a hobby shop and got one that did.
"My neighbor, Jake Johnson, helped me get started," Landin said. "He is involved with model railroading and helped me build all the layouts," which Landin refers to as his "railroad empires."
"In 1984, I began building the main empire, which is modeled after (the mining towns of) Deadwood and Lead in South Dakota," said Landin, who said he visited that area during a family vacation.
The two train empires, which sit on table tops, are made of a variety of materials, including wood, paper bags, wire, plaster and foam. Landin carved the plaster into granite mountains, then added green foam, sand, miniature trees and buildings, as well as the railroad tracks, to complete the scenes.
"The way I build and paint the layouts adds a lot to the authenticity and realism of the empires," he said.
"I make some of the buildings from scratch, but most come in kits. They're white plastic, so I have to paint them so they look weathered and old."
To do this, Landin has to select the correct color, paint the piece, then put it through a process called dirt-dripping, which gives it an antique look.
The empires also have populations of people, some as small as an inch tall, that also need to be painted. "I use a very small brush," he added.
Landin learned most of the processes involved in building his model-train empires through hobby magazines, books, tapes and videotapes, as well as his family trips.
The sizes of the model trains are in proportion to full-sized ones. The largest scale, called LGB, is 0.25 inches per foot--making each car about a foot long--while N scale is 0.075 inches per foot. The HO and HOe sizes fall between the N and the LGB scales. The smallest is Z scale, which is only half the size of N-scale. Landin hopes to add Z-scale models soon.
Landin's museum also houses an award-winning diorama of the Golden Spike ceremony that took place at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869, marking the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.
Landin entered the diorama, which took him seven months to complete, at last year's Orange County Fair. Along with receiving a blue ribbon and first-place trophy, Landin was told by the judges that his entry was the finest of its kind they had seen in 15 years.
He plans to enter the fair competition again this summer with an LGB-scale model of the Silverton Railroad Depot in Silverton, Colo.
Landin's ideas for his empires come from the various trips he takes--"by train, of course," he said. He and his family have traveled extensively throughout the West, taking pictures and planning his new projects while he vacations.
This summer, he is traveling to Albuquerque, Denver and Chicago by train with his mother and one of her friends. "My mom really supports me. She helps me with different things," Landin said.
"I hope to come back with some new ideas for model empires."
Even so, it might be a while before he can begin building them, as model railroading can be an expensive hobby.
"It may cost only $5 for a boxcar, because they are usually plastic or metal, but the engines run from $20 to $200, sometimes more," Landin said of the HO-scale models.
Pointing to his LGB models on the Silverton tracks, he said, "The engine for this one was about $1,000."
Even the smaller models can be costly, depending upon the difficulty in scaling them and the metals used. Landin owns a brass HOe engine that cost him $95. He estimates that he has spent more than $7,000 on his museum.
The first place Landin goes when his family stops at any train station is the gift and hobby shops in search of additional model trains.
"I have in mind what I want to get, and my trips are focused on finding them (the trains).
"I usually get new additions--like a car, engine or building for the set--about once a month," he said. Landin mows his neighbors' lawns and washes cars to earn the money, and also receives pieces as presents from friends and relatives.
While the museum is a way of educating people about the past, it is entirely nonprofit and admission is free. Landin does, however, have a donation box, but he said he doesn't receive enough money to support his hobby.