The holidays have arrived in the tiny railroad town of “Golden Belt.” Even as COVID-19 has strained life in many places, here in the very small hamlet, life keeps chugging right along.
And, thanks to the Golden Belt Model Railroad Association, the tiny town extends an open invitation for all visitors this holiday season.
Golden Belt is a expansive fictional miniature town built by members of the Golden Belt Model Railroad Association, and is one of several railroad models on display at 1315 Main St., Great Bend, throughout the month of December. Model Railroad Association member Mark Orth said the miniature town, which is several feet long and wide, took him and other members of the club a little over two years to build.
A testament to the modern twist on a very traditional craft, Orth said many of the miniatures which make up the town of Golden Belt came from online retailers such as EBay.
Though it bears the region’s name, he said it doesn’t really represent any particular town in the area. Instead, it picked up the name from a trip to the fair a few years ago.
Not everything in Golden Belt is built to the exact same scale, but, “we did a pretty decent job modeling it,” Orth said.
Orth estimates this is the club’s seventh or eighth year putting on a holiday model railroad display in the real Golden Belt. Though the group’s holiday display is smaller this year due to virus concerns, he believes the display is still an important holiday tradition for children of all ages,
“It seems like Christmas and trains kind of go together,” Orth said, noting in the past model train sets were a common sight around Christmas trees. Especially in difficult times like this year, he feels like the model trains appeal to the child inside of many.
“You see little kids smile, and their eyes light up, and you see older people smile, and their eyes light up,” Orth said.
It is that same wonder developed in his own childhood which Orth said still drives him to work with model trains today. “I remember trains like that when I was young and they’re just fascinating.”
It is a wonder shared by club member Robert Vredenburg, who though he’s long had a passion for it, said he did not actually have a model train set until adulthood. He said he got his first model train set when he was in his 20s.
“I got a board, painted some streets on it, painted some green and some brown (for landscape), laid the track out, and I ran it,” Vredenburg said.
Orth’s eyes lit up as he described the many different gauges of model trains making up the group’s holiday display in the old Hallmark building just south of Forest and Main streets. Model trains, he said, come in many different sizes, and the group’s members vary in the types of gauges they prefer to work with. The options are as varied as those who create them.
For example, in the window of the display sits a large steam engine which Orth said one model railroad enthusiast not in the club built by hand. Though it doesn’t run, it demonstrates the painstaking passion model railroad enthusiasts have for their craft.
The Golden Belt Model Railroad Association, he said, has been around for about 15 years, and is comprised of several members who meet twice a month the basement of the First United Methodist Church in Great Bend. Meetings are usually the first Tuesday and third Monday of each month at 7:30 p.m.
The Golden Belt Model Railroad Association’s holiday downtown display will be open to the public at 1315 Main St., Great Bend, Thursday evenings from 5:30-7 p.m. Dec. 3, Dec. 10, and Dec. 17, and again from 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 27.