The Gold Coast Modular Railroad Club needs a station to call its own.
The nonprofit group owns dozens of engines and cars, hundreds of feet of track and an elaborate model layout that includes bridges, tunnels, curves and mini-industries that when assembled is big enough to crowd a modest backyard.
The problem is that the whole setup--about $40,000 worth--is in storage and only a small portion was pulled out for appearances at the Ventura County Fair the past two summers. The 14-person club attracts members from across Ventura County, from fourth-graders to septuagenarians.
"It's a way to relive your childhood," said Willis Naysmith, 67, of Camarillo.
Fellow member Don Haigler, 42, saw his first train when he was 4, and said he has been hooked ever since.
"Every day I got home from school, I did my homework and then I got to play with my trains," the Oxnard resident said.
Now Haigler works as a security guard and builds model train setups for others.
The club meets monthly to discuss new model train technologies, such as digital controls, or to update members on the search for a permanent home.
A Camarillo strip mall donated 5,000 square feet to the club in 1993 on the condition it move out if the property were ever rented. The club had a regular meeting place until February 1997, and has since been homeless.
Club Has Difficulty Gaining New Members
Without a site, the club has trouble attracting new members. And with limited funds--dues are less than $20 a year--the 14-year-old organization needs another generous landlord or benefactor to underwrite its activities.
For now, members focus on perfecting their own model setups, each 1/87th the size of the real thing. Working one evening a week, the group expects to finish a layout for Naysmith in about two months.
Naysmith, a retired teacher, enjoys his imaginary role as a captain of industry. "I have a lumberyard," he said. "It doesn't make any money, but it doesn't lose any money either."
Once that project is complete, group members plan to help club President Jerry Mittelholtz with a train layout he is constructing in the basement of his new Santa Paula home. "It's a house built around a train room," he said.
Mittelholtz, an eighth-grade English teacher at Anacapa Middle School in Ventura, said his interest in trains began while he was a student at Cal State Fullerton. "Rather than go and study in the library and fall asleep, I went to the station and watched the trains go by," he said.
Layouts can include faux mountains, rivers, beaches, deserts, valleys and lakes. Industrial touches, such as stockyards, oil fields, canneries, bridges and tunnels, are often added.
Many enthusiasts reward careful observers by hiding clever touches in the details of their layouts. One might feature a pair of thimble-sized skinny-dippers, while another might have a hidden hobo roasting his lunch over a flickering campfire.
Some train hobbyists like to design new layouts, while others prefer building realistic scenery or solving the sometimes complicated electrical wiring, member Nick Leddo said.
Club Fulfills a Lifelong Dream
"Each individual gets into what he's interested in," said Leddo, a retired financial executive who joined the club to fulfill a lifelong dream.
"I wanted electric trains when I was a kid and my mother said 'No, it'll cause a spark and the [Christmas] tree will go up,' " said Leddo, 74. "I've been dying to get into it ever since. . . . It took me a year of convincing my wife to let me clear out the garage."