AUGUSTA — Stephen Burns remembers admiring trains when passing over three railroad crossings on trips to Rockland from Friendship as a child, but he’s not sure why he fell in love with model railroads.
“I don’t know what it is,” said Burns, 73. “I’m not fascinated in the least bit by video games or slot cars. I’ve always been fascinated by trains, and I probably will be as long as I last.”
Whatever the reason, he wasn’t alone in his passion at the annual Whitefield Lions Club Model Railroad and Doll House Show held Saturday at the Augusta State Armory.
Event organizer Steve Laundrie said 700 to 800 people usually attend the event each year, which is the club’s second-largest fundraiser, behind its Windsor Fair activities.
Burns sat in a chair with the model railroad track in front of him. His wife, Joanne, sat to the side of the track, helping children control a miniature log loader.
Stephen Burns pressed a small lever, propelling the steam engine toward the log loader. Rail cars on one side of the loader flung the miniature logs into the loader’s feeder before the press of a button lifted them to the other side.
Then the loader flung the wooden dowels into the rail cars on the opposite track.
Burns noted that one of the railroad cars supplying the log loader was a Christmas gift in 1947. He had gotten his first set a few years earlier at the age of 4.
He said he’s not sure what makes model railroads such a popular hobby.
“All I can say is I’m still fascinated by it,” Burns said.
The Friendship couple are members of the Maine 3-Railers, a model railroad club that meets monthly in Richmond.
Paul Lodge, secretary of the Great Falls Model Railroad Club, in Auburn, said he thinks model railroads are popular because there is a lot of creativity involved in designing the track and scenery.
Also, model railroads allow people to control something, unlike much else in life, Lodge said.
Jerry Johnston, of Minot, said he has been using model trains since the early 1980s and joined Great Falls Model Railroad Club in 1997.
“That’s what really put me in deep,” he said. “I’ve been head over heels since then.”
Johnston said he has around 100 model train engines and 700 square feet of track layout at his house.
The club is an educational foundation that promotes model railroading as a hobby and the appreciation of real railroads through adult education classes, railroad safety presentation, club gatherings and special events.
Great Falls Model Railroad Club and the Maine 3-Railers both take part in the Model Railroad Celebration, held every December at the Maine State Museum.
The clubs each had large model railroads set up at the show that were running throughout the day, as well as some smaller tracks. Vendors also sold model railroad components and dollhouse supplies.
Model railroads may be a popular hobby, but it’s not a cheap one.
Johnston said decent train engines cost $50 to $70, and cars cost around $15. Some vendors had engines priced at more than $100.
Laundrie, who has been organizing the event for seven years, said he doesn’t have any model railroads.
“I admire these people,” he said. “I’m afraid if I did get into it, I’d wind up in the poor house.”
Laundrie said he did notice more people leaving with purchases Saturday compared to past years.
The Burnses said they have a similar, but larger, model railroad set up at home, and they take the 16-foot-long track to the various shows.
Stephen Burns said they go to several shows throughout the year with the club.
“I kind of dread the night before,” he said. “I’m happy enough when I get here. You see an awful lot of kids smiling, quite a few adults.”
Paul Koenig — 621-5663