There’s something bewitching about trains. Once you love them they stick with you and that’s what happened with David Trussell, who, along with businessman Kenny Monfort, started building the Colorado Model Railroad Museum in 2002. The non-profit venture took nine years to complete, officially opening in 2009.
David, who lost his father in WWII, moved with his mother to his grandfather’s home. While growing up there, David would occasionally follow his grandfather to his job at the Burlington Railroad in Missouri. That’s where his love of trains started. In high school he started building models and even took a chance to ride the rails from Saigon when stationed overseas in Vietnam. After going into the journalism profession, David’s models started to become more and more elaborate. Enough to fill… well, this building. And after his retirement, that is exactly what he did. Rain or shine, trains move about the country and today I crossed over a rainy track on 10th Street in downtown Greeley and pulled into the museum on a dreary Saturday afternoon.
However, once inside, the gray outdoors dissipated to the back of my mind as I looked around. In addition to a Lego and Christmas village, full replicas of various United States landscapes move through the 5,500 square foot, 22-mile course; miniature home to the Oregon, California and Eastern Railway Company. The museum holds memorabilia like vintage hand towels, tickets and old signage. A life-size 1919 C&S Caboose stands out in red in the corner of the building. Children and adults alike are mesmerized as they watch the trains travel from one end of the building to the other, chugging through towns, over bridges and between mountain vistas. Each person makes their way back to the caboose then up the stairs to the observation deck and back down to the giftshop.
At the front, you’ll be given an “Eye-Spy” game to see what all you can locate while touring around the museum. The search includes men moving a couch and a little girl meeting skunks. There is a mystery critter too… today’s is a purple dinosaur. You would think that would be easy to spot, but alas, I left there not ever finding that creature. I did find Steve though. Steve was one of the seven or so volunteers in tan shirts walking around with a headset. He looked like an expert, so I went up to ask him more about this museum. While I was there, another volunteer named Carl popped by and told me that each “pine” tree was handmade by locals in the community out of old scour pads. Occasionally they will drop in and go… “I made that one.” The 28,000 hand-made trees that were sprinkled throughout the exhibit made the mountain vistas that much more realistic.
The other thing I had no idea about was how organized and synchronized these model trains are moving about the exhibit. That headset I mentioned earlier? Yeah, those are for the guys who bring their model trains from home to get direction when moving around the tracks. There are usually 7 to 8 trains at a time rolling between the courses all organized by Gene who has been at the controls for about half of the day. Gene didn’t have time to chat as his job requires a high amount of concentration but was all right with my taking a picture of him coordinating the dance that is train travel.
The massive board and computerized set-up are nothing short of professional. But Jerry, walking around in the red shirt, was the one managing it all. Steve took me back behind the ropes to meet him and to see how all the tracks come together.
Several trains sit on the back tracks. 8 belong to the museum and the remaining tracks are empty waiting for those who have personal trains out on the course. I asked Steve what got him interested in trains and, like the founder, it was when he was a little boy. He was 9 and hasn’t stopped loving them since.
Everyone walking around that rainy afternoon were kids of all sizes. I even ran into some family friends on the observation platform, who were looking down not only on their grandkids, but were mesmerized by the steam coming from the engines.
As I made my way back down to the first floor, the caboose sat empty of guests and was calling my name. Like most, I chose to come here not only to write this story, but because I’m a lot like Steve and have loved trains since I was little. I had to step inside and take a few pictures. The caboose was a little different than the passenger trains I rode up to the mountains in when I was 9 and back home from college on the east coast many years later. I remember driving through many northeastern Colorado towns though, including Greeley. There was a time I was even a train conductor at a theme park back in the early aughts. I remember the meaning of the whistles and love the classic movie-like feel of a dining car. I don’t have a model train but, to be honest, if I’m allowed to come and drive my own here, a new hobby may start up as the weather gets cooler.
If you’re planning on coming to the museum in any type of weather, the hours are:
June - August
Tuesday - Saturday - 10:00am to 4:00pm Sunday - 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm
September - May
Friday and Saturday - 10:00am to 4:00pm Sunday - 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Closed Christmas Day & New Year’s Day
Adults - $11.00 Kids 12 & under - $6.00 65 + $9.00
*Military and student discounts are available
More information can be found at: www.cmrm.org