By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
At some point in every child’s life, whether young or old, they dream of having a model train set. What it is about trains is hard to explain. They are romantic, they are tough, they are fun.
Craig Carney of Cushing attests to that. He loves trains and he has since he was about 9 years old.
“I got a Lionel set for Christmas one year. There were three cars, the engine and the track. It was lots of fun,” he said.
Carney’s first train was adhered to a 8-foot by 4-foot piece of plywood. When his father finished the rec room in the basement, he put the train on the wall so that it could fold down and rest on wooden legs which extended perpendicular to the wall.
“I kept adding track and cars. I even had a flashing alarm, like a semaphore, that would be activated when the train neared the intersection. The stop arms would then come down,” Carney said. “It got very involved.”
But as a teen, Carney lost interest in his model train. When the family moved, the train set was sold.
After college, Carney moved to Madison, Wis. Because he didn’t have many friends there, he found a hobby shop and started over with another train set. He lived in a one bedroom apartment, so there wasn’t much room to set it up. It sat on his kitchen table.
When he returned to Minnesota and lived in St. Cloud, there was no room for the set, so he sold it.
“I was without a train for many years,” he said. “I got married in 1993 and told my wife, Kathy, about my passion for trains. She said I should get back into it.”
In 2003, Kathy bought Carney a model for his Christmas present and he got back into it, big time.
“We were living in Sartell and had tons of room in the unfinished basement,” he said. “When we moved to Cushing and built a house, I purposely created a dedicated train room.”
It’s not watching his two trains go around and around the track that amuses Carney. It’s making the scenery, the layout, the buildings that is the biggest attraction.
“I can sit for hours and build,” he said. “Now I am thinking about urban renewal on my 1950s town. I want to add more buildings.”
Carney’s trains are HO scale, a medium-sized train. He said there are other scales that range from large (G scale) to small (N scale).
He has two transformers that each run one of the trains. He said that today, one can purchase digitally controlled trains. Several trains can be on one track and the one control works each individual engine.
When he creates buildings, trees or other scenery, each piece is also HO scale. It all looks perfect.
He created a dog-bone shaped track and the town the train runs through is from memories of his childhood. He calls the town Clarksville and it’s reminiscent of a southern Minnesota town near the Mississippi River.
The trains are similar to the Chicago Northwestern line.
“Every model train lover creates his layout in the era of his or her choice. There is no one type of setting,” said Carney.
Noticeably, there is no graffiti on his trains.
“You didn’t see graffiti on trains in the 1950s,” he said.
Carney’s layout has the Mississippi River bluffs, a farm with contented cows, a race track and a lumber company. One can see hotels, gas stations and a quilt shop. There’s even a county fair.
Of course there are homes, the river and a lake. Grass grows throughout, along with some weeds. A farmers market displays plants and produce. People dot the landscape, as do cars and even billboards along the roads.
Carney has even added lighting to many of the homes and businesses, as well as a stop light that glows and a business sign with lights that flash.
“I am not finished with the lighting, the town needs more,” he said.
Carney said, for him, the purpose is to create a scene that does not look as if it’s a model train, but the real thing with all the flaws. He has added soot smudges to many of the trains.
“That is to make them appear older and more weathered,” he said.
Annually, Carney needs to clean the tracks. He said they tend to corrode in the winter. He painstakingly takes a piece of pumice-like stone and rubs the tracks.
“It’s a labor of love,” he said.
Those who are unsure about what to get that child in their life, young or old, a train set may be just the thing.