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Thursday, 06 March 2014 00:00

Train show delivers fun for all ages

Written by  Ian Gronau
Malaki Elrod and his dad, Todd, enjoy train layouts of Thomas the Tank Engine and the Polar Express at the 2013 Delavan Train Show. The train show runs this weekend at the Delavan American Legion Hall and several downtown Delavan businesses. Malaki Elrod and his dad, Todd, enjoy train layouts of Thomas the Tank Engine and the Polar Express at the 2013 Delavan Train Show. The train show runs this weekend at the Delavan American Legion Hall and several downtown Delavan businesses. Heather Noel Nelson

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- The annual Delavan Train Show chugs into town this weekend, March 8-9, 2014.

The show has grown so much over the past few years, hosting nearly 4,000 visitors last year, that the organizers have made a few changes for this seventh year. As always, the show will be headquartered at the Delavan American Legion Hall, 111 S. Second St., but train displays also will be featured at eight other downtown locations.

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All the locations are within several blocks of each other to make the tour walkable, but a trackless train also will ferry guests between display areas. Organizer Sara Deschner said that the expansion will not only help to get people into downtown businesses and spread out the show’s large attendance, but also raise its status from show to festival.

Across the locations this year, the show will host 16 different model train layouts varying in size from G Scale, or garden scale, all the way down to Z Scale. There will be some new and familiar faces among the hobbyists showing off their layouts. Lake Geneva resident Ed Yaeger will display his model train layout for a fifth year. 

“Trains are attractive to people of all ages and backgrounds,” Yaeger said. “They are a worldwide fascination, and that’s what it’s all about over in Delavan this weekend.”

Yaeger has had a fascination with trains ever since childhood, when he was inspired by watching the Hiawatha trains chug up and down the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor. But Yaeger will be showcasing more than just his love for trains at the show; he’ll also be offering a history lesson on the train line that serviced Lake Geneva 140 years ago, and a proposed railroad park that he’s been advocating in the city for several years. 

“I’m going to be bringing a scale layout of a proposed railroad park in Lake Geneva,” Yaeger said. “I proposed this railroad park in Lake Geneva in 2007 when we discovered that piece of property that used to be the engine service area is still downtown basically as it was in 1871.”

According to Yaeger, back at its peak, the property housed the service area, a large train engine turntable, a two-stall engine house, a water tower and a well.

Yaeger feels that even though our technological age has changed the face of entertainment, opportunities, such as the train show, still exist for families to get out together and interact with fun and wholesome old-fashioned toys.

“There are a lot of kids out there that don’t even know what coal is,” Yaeger said. “The model train hobby has suffered a bit from all the texting and computer stuff nowadays; it seems like all the kids are being pulled away from mechanical toys. But they are still here, and there are a lot of railroad clubs across the country and shows like this so people can get out and see them.”

Gordon and Mary Letheby, also repeat model train presenters at the show, said their family is proof that this hobby is capable of producing just as much opportunity for bonding as for entertainment. Gordon Letheby, who turns 72 later this month, has been tinkering around with toy trains for as long as he can remember and his wife willingly inherited his fascination with the toys when they were married 50 years ago. 

“This weekend I’m bringing my 8-by-16 O Gauge layout and running four trains on it,” Gordon Letheby said. “Mary is bringing a circus layout that is 12 by 12 and it runs two trains. It has a lot of carnival rides and buttons that kids can play with. Both layouts are very kid friendly.”

The Letheby family successfully passed their pastime down to their children, and is proud to say that they now have four generations that attend and display at model train shows.

“It’s brought our family closer together,” Gordon Letheby said. “We see each other quite often because we do 10 to 12 different shows a year.”

The Lethebys know firsthand how important it is to have a hands-on policy when it comes to children and model trains.

“Many times, parents take children to these things and they spend their time telling them ‘don’t touch,’” Mary Letheby said. “We actually want the kids to touch these buttons because then they can interact with the layout itself.

“We have a circus layout with all kinds of carnival rides and it has a ton of interactive parts that are a lot of fun.”

Incidentally, the family pastime appeal of model trains is the reason the Delavan Train Show exists in its current form. Sara and Brad Deschner were inspired to host the show because of their son, Kyle, who fell in love with trains at an early age.

“Our son really liked the shows and he always used to go to the show when it was at the bank downtown,” Sara Deschner said. “When the bank discontinued the show we wanted to bring it back because we thought it was kind of a positive community thing. I think small towns really need nice little things like this.”

The Deschner family’s personal experience at train shows also has taught them the importance of kid-friendly layouts.

“We’ve been to a lot of train shows where so many of the layouts are taller so when adults are working on them they are at waist height,” Deschner said. “It’s tough for the little kids to see anything like that. We go out of our way to get presenters that are really kid friendly and they have buttons for the kids to push, and a lot of them even have controls so the kids can actually operate the trains.”

There are a lot of reasons to stop by the train show; to get a history lesson, attend a free family-friendly event or bridge the interests of different generations and make new memories together, but probably the best reason is, as Deschner said:

“A lot of people enjoy it, it’s something that’s just simple, happy and fun.”

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