There’s something magical about a model train, where the world is presented in miniature. Each tiny detail is lovingly crafted and calculated. Then, with the push of a button, the scene springs to life, as the little engine moves seamlessly along the track. The model trains at the Lewis County Historical Museum in Chehalis tick all the boxes, thanks to the Lewis County Model Railroad Club who built and maintain the display. The layout is the second largest in Washington State, after the display at the Washington State Historical Museum in Tacoma. But while the display in Tacoma is beautifully crafted, it can only be viewed through glass. Whereas nothing stands between viewer and trains at the Lewis County display. When a club member is present, the display is interactive. You can walk right into it.
Ted Livermore, President of the Lewis County Model Railroad Club, was around from the display’s inception in 2005, but Ted’s history with model trains goes nearly back to his infancy.
His hobby began when he was just three-years-old with Lionel and American Flyer model trains. It was something he and his Dad did together. Ted has fond memories of their visits to the hobby store and pouring over the catalogs that came out with all the little accessories.
“We just had a lot of fun with that,” recalls Ted, “He passed away when I was twelve. I kept the trains for a while but then girls became more important, and cars. But as soon as I graduated from high school, I started right back in. I worked for JC Penny, and the fellow I worked with in the shoe department had trains. And I haven’t stopped since. That’s been… quite a while ago.”
Ted estimates he’s been with the Railroad Club around 27 years.
“We used to meet in the hobby shop,” he said. “We had a portable layout. But my friend Doug decided to sell the hobby shop. So, we moved over to the steam train and into a boxcar. We had the only model railroad in a boxcar that was pulled by a steam engine up and down the track. We would take it to different events and set it up. That was fun, but then the club slowly dwindled down. And Doug passed away. Then it was just me.”
At the same time, another group wanted to start a club and the museum was looking for some train people to do a model layout. Ted had already been volunteering at the Museum two days a week. In 2005, everything came together to create the Lewis County display.
“A large group arrived to build the new model train layout,” explains Ted, “but it quickly dwindled down to four. Dave Bond and I did most of the work back there, all the carpentry work.”
The Museum’s display represents Lewis County Railroading in the 1970s. The goal is to have fun with railroading and teach local history at the same time. The Willapa branch is the newest addition which includes a sawmill, the swing bridge in South Bend and towns like Winlock. The Winlock Station was scratch built by Dave Bond from the original plans. The roof alone, with its tiny cedar shingles, took three weeks to complete.
Many local landmarks can be seen around the display like the newest building, the large brick edifice directly behind the museum currently called The Loft, during its Sears era. Looking around, one might spot National Foods, Midway Meats, and the Dairygold silos; plus, rural details that give the flavor of Lewis County.
The Club puts on two train shows a year at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds. “We give half the gate to the museum,” says Ted. “The other half goes back into the layout. The Train Show and Swap Meet is the first weekend in April. The second weekend in October is the Harvest Festival Train Show and Swap Meet. We try to have half a dozen different layouts there in all different scales and sizes. The rest is taken up with vendors. We usually sellout a month before the event. It’s very popular. The museum that Saturday is open free to the public and the train guys are there operating at the same time.”
But Ted doesn’t put all his energy into the Museum. He also has trains at home.
“Of course I have a train collection at home,” Ted says with a laugh. “It’s 22 foot by 24 foot and ‘L’ shaped. I started out in the shop, but it was too far from the house by the time you got it warmed up and the mice cleaned out of it. So, my wife said, ‘let’s add onto the house.’ I started with an addition off the den. It was about fifteen by fifteen but that wasn’t big enough. I needed a little work area. So, I build a bathroom and a workshop. Then that wasn’t big enough so, I said, ‘I’d like to push that wall out a little bit’. She said ‘no, you can’t do that until I get a bigger kitchen.’ So, I took the whole back wall of the house out. She got her kitchen and pantry and I got my train room.”