The Rail Thing

Old Boise Model Railroad will get your holiday spirit on track


Old Boise Model Railroad Holiday Open House 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturdays through Jan. 2. Pioneer Building, 106 N. Sixth St.,

Step inside the holiday display of the Old Boise Model Railroad and, sooner than later, you start expressing your amazement with old timey expressions such as "Goodness gracious" or "Oh my word." Even an occasional exclamation of "Jeepers" would be appropriate.

"Something just happens when we're down here," said Jim Brostmeyer, with glee usually reserved for a 5-year-old.

Brostmeyer's enthusiasm practically filled the spacious basement space of Boise's Pioneer Building at Sixth and Main streets, home to the Old Boise Model Railroad Holiday Open House. He's one of the members of the Old Boise N-Scale Model Railroad Club, which keeps things going throughout the year, but each Saturday in December really shows off its stuff: more than 1,000 feet of track, multiple switch yards, miniature towns, villages and wilderness, and hundreds of rail cars.

"If we put this to scale, it's the equivalent of 500 miles," said Brostmeyer. "We've got over 200 switches, 500 engines—steam and diesel—and, are you ready for this? We probably have a total of 3,000 cars."

The club includes both men and women, college students, professionals and retirees, but Brostmeyer conceded it can be a "guy thing."

"Honestly, this helps me with my marriage. This gets my toys out of the house and gives my wife more room for her stuff," said Brostmeyer, a Hewlett-Packard mechanical engineer. "Plus, if I get in trouble at home, there's a place I can go."

Darrell Sterling, a pharmacist for Albertsons, offered a nod and a laugh, adding, "My wife doesn't really have to worry about me chasing girls. I'm usually here."

Sterling has been with the club from its inception, when it set up space in an upstairs room of the Pioneer Building.

"But we grew so much that we came down to the basement two years ago. There's three-times more square footage here. It was a major effort to move," said Sterling, "but it fits so perfectly with the Pioneer Building."

Built in 1910 as the Pioneer Tent and Awning Building, and replacing Boise's Good Templar Hall, the Pioneer Building was granted architectural landmark status in 1976. After weathering a full century, it is now part of what is commonly known as Old Boise.

"Our club meets each Tuesday evening here at the Pioneer Building, but we don't like to turn it too much into a work environment," said Brostmeyer.

That said, the model railroad club has been plenty busy with a major expansion. The display already winds through several toy villages, rail yards and meticulously landscaped wilderness.

"Our next phase includes a water feature. We'll have cranes lifting cargo in and out through an intermodal transportation facility," said Brostmeyer. "There's a lot of detail and we should have that new section in by next summer."

As Brostmeyer was talking, with no fewer than four separate trains chugging past Sterling wheeled in a cart filled with crafts that would put Martha Stewart to shame.

"We design and make most of our landscaping," he said, pointing to scores of tiny pieces that would soon become trees, bushes, boulders and other landscape. "We've got different colors of grass. Multiple types of trees, even ballast to lay along the track."

The real jaw-dropper is the rail cars themselves—specifically, the graffiti on their exteriors.

"Darryl actually goes out to rail yards in Nampa, takes photos of real rail cars and then prints out, silk-screens and wraps our miniature rail cars with images of the real graffiti," said Brostmeyer, as Sterling beamed at his achievement.

For all the attention to detail, the display also has a wicked sense of humor. For example, the trains roll by a village where the local fireworks factory has been built next door to a natural gas facility. Plus, a number of the businesses have some unique names, such as "Bendover Plumbing," "The Hoffa Cement Company" and "The Wilted Produce Company."

Additionally, the trains roll by a rather bad "accident" where a tanker car has crashed into a river, leaking oil.

"They're waiting for the EPA to arrive on the scene," said Brostmeyer with a grin, as he walked past a miniature billboard for the "Bowel Brothers Outhouse Company." Its slogan: "Let Us Be Number One for Your Number Two."

Of a more serious nature, many of the buildings are illuminated with LED lights, including a good-sized steel mill, complete with blast ovens and furnaces.

Club members say when kids and parents visit the display each Christmas season, they're regularly asked where to turn for a child's first toy train set.

"Unfortunately, HobbyTown closed up a few years ago," referring to the now-shuttered Cole Road shop that catered to model train enthusiasts. "So now, we might point parents to the website for Caboose Hobbies. They're out of Denver, Colo., and they really know their stuff. And of course, there's eBay and Amazon."

For now, the model railroaders are anxious to share their toys with kids of all ages.

"Believe it or not, it's not the kids that we have to worry about when we say 'Please don't touch.' It's the adults," said Sterling with a big laugh. "Seriously, who are the real kids here?"