Photos: Union Station's historic model trains still homeless -- but fans are stepping up

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Since we broke the sad news yesterday that the two model-train layouts that have been in the basement of Union Station for decades -- eight decades, in one case -- will not be there when Union Station reopens in 2014, fans have been hopping on board to help find them a new home. And in the meantime, to help fund the clubs that operate the layouts: The Riverfront Park Community Foundation just donated $25,000 to the cause, split between the two groups.

There's not a moment to lose: Although both the Denver Society of Model Railroaders, whose O Scale layout dates back to 1934, and the Platte Valley and Western Model Railroad club thought they'd been guaranteed a spot in the revitalized station -- and both developers initially vying for the contract had told the RTD board that they'd keep the layouts -- now the clubs need to dismantle everything and get out within the month.

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A historical photo from the Denver Society of Model Railroaders website. See more below.
"We'll be down there tearing out our layout in the dark," says PV&W supervisor Tarry Harrison, whose club members heard that their 2,000 square-foot layout would have to be moved a few weeks ago. (The Denver Society of Model Railroaders, whose 6,500 O Scale layout is the largest, and oldest, in the country, reportedly didn't hear that they'd have to move until yesterday.)

The real shame, Harrison adds, is that if RTD and the developers had just told the clubs back in the fall of 2011 that there would be no spot for them in the redeveloped Union Station, they could have found a place to move them, and their layouts would have been up and running -- and open to the public -- for the past year. Instead, they now have to dismantle the layouts, put them in storage, and then reassemble them somewhere, someday. As it is, the last time the layouts could be seen was at an open house in late November 2011 -- two weeks before the RTD board gave the Union Station contract to the Union Station Alliance.

Late Monday, the Union Station Alliance announced that because of environmental considerations, among other reasons, the two layouts would have to be moved -- and they would not be coming back. Here's that statement:

As with the renovation of any historic building, there is a time in a renovation when removing hazardous materials and environmental abatement work must begin. This work will allow the building to be renovated to current building code and current life safety standards. As we begin this process, we must remove all items from the basement storage area in order to allow this work to be done. In addition to the abatement work, we will be installing new mechanical systems in the basement of Union Station. The basement of Union Station has been home to two model train clubs for many years.

In an effort to renovate the building and to create a safe environment for future patrons, we must ask these train clubs to move from the building. In an effort to show our ongoing support of the model train clubs, we are working with the clubs to find acceptable space for the storage and potential permanent exhibition space.

As a means of celebrating of our city's heritage, Union Station Alliance is sponsoring the Colorado History Museum's upcoming All Aboard Colorado exhibit. This exhibit is a tribute to train travel and will showcase two different model trains for two local clubs: The Platte Valley & Western Model Railroad Club and the Colorado & Great Western Model Railroad Club. We hope that everyone will visit this exhibit and join us in our excitement as we look to opening the historic Union Station train station in 2014.

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From the Platte Valley & Western Model Railroad Club's Facebook page. See more photos below.
There aren't many details of what the All Aboard Colorado exhibit will look like beyond the fact that it should open in the History Colorado Center in time for Father's Day -- and will not include either the 6,500 square foot O Scale layout or the 2,000 square foot PV&W operation. But train fans think that the museum, which opened just a year ago, might be a good place for the two layouts to be placed permanently -- perhaps in the basement space where the diorama now in the lobby was recently repaired.

When they were still accessible in Union Station, the layouts were considered a major tourist attraction, and they're still touted on "It's one of Denver's greatest hidden gems -- hidden, almost literally!," says the site maintained by Visit Denver. "The basement of Denver's Union Station is home to one of the Mile High City's most exciting, historical attractions."

Rich Grant, spokesman for Visit Denver, is confident that the clubs will find a new home for their layouts. "As a model-railroad aficionado, I know it's one of the best in the country," he says, "and there's no way it won't find a home, maybe one more convenient for visitors. It will be a win for everybody."

The $25,000 donation, given by the Riverfront Park Community Foundation, definitely qualifies as a win, it was given -- and given fast -- in recognition of how important the model trains are to the cultural fabric of the community. And the foundation hopes that it will inspire others to step up to help the clubs.

"Already, due to the Westword article, some things are starting to happen," says Harrison.

All aboard!

Continue for photos from color photos of the Platte Valley layout and historical black-and-whites from the 1930s through the 1960s courtesy of the Denver Society of Model Railroaders.

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As a former member of one of these clubs, I can safely say that there are many of us who are NOT sad to see the end of them at Union Station and who is hopeful that a new club that is actually family friendly, gender friendly, and actually open to new members could be created.  These clubs have been rife with in-fighting, deliberate actions to exclude new membership, and concerted policies created to discourage children being involved.  Both of these clubs have worked VERY hard to prevent ever being open to the public.  The majority of both of their memberships want to be exclusive and play in the sandbox by themselves.  It has only been the efforts of a couple of members in either club that has responded to the desires of RTD to have the models open to the public at all.

I would highly suggest you get a better picture of what is really going on there than just the one-sided view of the current club leadership's mentality.  Also, you might consider actually giving credit to the individuals who actually took the amazing photos you have posted. 

David Owens
David Owens

Interesting. They're probably too old to be of any real value, though.

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