Trains don’t run on the Long Beach Peninsula anymore — except for tiny ones, that is.
On Saturday and Sunday, train enthusiasts will celebrate Clamshell Railroad Days, an annual event highlighting model trains and local railroad history.
The event takes place at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, which reopened earlier this month.
The weekend event is pleasurable work for members of the Peninsula Model Railroad Club, who relax around miniature railroad layouts in their homes year-round. Members carefully pack up their modular designs to share with similar enthusiasts at shows in Puyallup, Washington, and Monroe, Washington.
All the club’s members channel their love for real trains into a devotion to model versions.
Mark Clemmens of Oysterville is the group’s secretary-treasurer.
“I had HO-gauge trains when I was in junior high, like a lot of kids,” he said. “We would have a piece of 4’ by 8’ plywood with a track in a circle.”
The hobby was put on hold during his 31-year career sailboat racing in Seattle. When he moved to the peninsula, he worked with volunteers in Astoria restoring a real locomotive, then joined the model club.
“It’s a hobby,” he said. “Some people enjoy the modeling. I enjoy the electrics, the wiring, and a little bit of the scenery and laying track.”
Model train enthusiasts divide into groups who prefer differently sized railroad lines (called gauges, usually with a letter like N, G or HO) which determine the scale of the trains.
Layouts feature carefully measured track and appropriate scale-sized buildings, including depots and stations. Peninsula club members have their pre-built on modular layouts which they clamp together for shows, drastically reducing set-up time. They plug in, adjust control devices, then the fun begins as visitors of all ages watch.
Sometimes as many as five trains are running simultaneously.
“We run the trains as if we were running the schedule,” Clemmens said. “We are ‘playing trains,’ as if we are doing the real thing, except in miniature.”
Enjoyment is generated as the carefully crafted locomotives reverse, pick up extra railroad cars, attach them safely and chug into a yard or station.
“For some people, it’s just watching the trains go around and around,” he said.
Two retired U.S. Coast Guard mechanics, George Normandin of Long Beach and Budd Lather of Ilwaco, both speak sentimentally about the joy their hobby brings.
Normandin’s career was spent keeping giant ship’s motors functioning; his hobby engines are way smaller.
“I got into it as I got older,” Normandin said. “It’s just fun.”
In his youth, older kids away at college would spend weekends home in Michigan and travel back to Chicago on “Sunday Flyers.”
“We got hooked on trains as a kid,” Lather said. “We knew people that worked for the railroad.”
Lather is the club’s president. One of his fondest memories as a high school student in Seattle was accompanying his eighth-grade sister on a two-day adventure to a wedding in the early 1960s.
“We spent nights sleeping in recliners and spent all day in the observation car,” he said. “A hamburger on the train was $5 then — we were broke by the time we got to Chicago.”
Later, memories of watching real trains at Ballard Locks in Seattle and a more recent preservation project in Portland rekindled his interest. He moved to Ilwaco 10 years ago and now has a 20-foot model layout above his garage.
A variety of stage displays will be available to view, hosted both by visiting clubs and local residents.
Those attending the Clamshell Railroad Days can enjoy one of only two opportunities during the year to climb aboard the museum’s largest artifact. The Nahcotta, a refurbished passenger train coach built by the Pullman Palace Car Co. of Chicago, will be available from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day.
The coach was attached to trains that ran from 1889 to 1930 on the local narrow-gauge line. This was nicknamed the Clamshell Railroad and gives its name to the annual event. The Cranberrian Fair in October is the only other time the real rail carriage is open for public viewing.
The museum, housed in Ilwaco’s old telephone company headquarters, which was built in the 1960s, features a recreation of elements of the Ilwaco Rail & Navigation Co.’s freight depot, which served as the south peninsula’s commercial transportation hub in the early 1900s.
Upstairs in a permanent fixture is a display created by Arthur Shumway highlighting the Spokane Portland and Seattle Railway Co. On the museum’s changeable wall featuring “Peninsula characters,” are portrait photos of Ilwaco railroad pioneers Edwin and Lewis Loomis.
For children, there will be storytimes in the Nahcotta at 1 p.m. each day. There will also be kids’ take-and-make kits available from the Ilwaco Timberland Library.