Model trains far more than child’s play

Steve Meseraull still remembers being awakened by the sound of a train whistle on a Christmas Eve night many years ago.

Meseraull, then in grade school, got out of bed and crept down the stairs. He saw his father, grandfather and uncles playing with a small electric train set.

“It was hard to go back up to bed when you know what you are going to be getting for Christmas,” Meseraull, now a semiretired Lawrence business owner, said recently as he recalled that night.

Meseraull still has that “little boy” enthusiasm for electric trains. In a large room in the basement of his home, he has more than 1,200 feet of tracks for his model railroad layout.

HO scale trains travel over multiple tracks that take them through rural scenery and past buildings and grain elevators. HO scale train engines and cars are generally 5 inches to 9 inches long and about 2 inches high.

A panel with a series of switches allows Meseraull to control the trains. He can switch them to other tracks, move them forward and backward, and couple and uncouple engines to cars.

“There’s just something about being able to control all those components,” Meseraull said.

Meseraull is not finished designing and adding to his model railroad. He is expanding it through a wall and into the next room.

Meseraull shares his interest in trains with others in the Lawrence area. He is president of the Lawrence Model Railroad Club. The club has more than 30 members, mostly men with varied career backgrounds and many of them retirees. There have been a few teenagers and men in their 20s who have been members of the club. The club sponsors an annual train show at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds. This year’s show will be Feb. 24.

Club members meet on the second Tuesday of the month, usually in Meseraull’s basement. His train layout is used as a teaching model for others in the club who are learning how to build their own and how to install the electrical systems that power the tracks. Members also share extra train parts.

“It’s a learning experience,” club member Jon Ardahl said. “What I’ve learned here I can take back to my layout and maybe not make any mistakes.”

Ardahl, a Lawrence resident and semiretired civil engineer, doesn’t yet have a complete HO railroad layout. Over the years he has focused on collecting mostly HO engines and cars. He estimates that he has about 200 engines and 800 cars.

“I like the diesels,” Ardahl said. “The bigger, the better.”

Meseraull prefers buying replicas of steam engines and the cars they pulled. He has more than 200 engines and 400 cars.

“In the 1950s, the steam engines were really going good,” Meseraull said. “In the ’60s they were going out and the diesels were coming in.”

Engines and cars can be purchased for prices ranging from about $50 to several hundred dollars apiece. The more expensive engines carry microcomputer chips that allow them to make the sounds of a steam or diesel engine.

Club member Jon Dunham has tried a different approach to the model railroad hobby. He has a computer game that simulates driving passenger and freight trains over rural and urban railways and moving them around in railroad yards.

“I’ve learned to have a lot of respect for train engineers and how they control the speed and braking of the train,” Dunham said.

Meseraull’s ultimate goal is to be able to have a computer control his train layout.

“I’d like to be able to just sit back and watch them run,” he said.