AUGUSTA — Blake Lecher, 14, leaned down to table-level, looking through his video camera intently to line up the perfect shot of the O-Gauge Lionel model train rounding a corner in the tracks and bearing down on him to make it look as large and life-like as possible as his younger brother, Teal, ran the controls, accelerating the train then slowing for corners.

Their mom, Valerie, said the family of eight kids had a plastic train set at home that they occasionally get out and fill their living room with, but Saturday, at the Maine3Railers Train and Dollhouse Show, at the Augusta State Armory, was the first time they had run a large model train set like the expansive Lionel layout set up for the show. She said some of her kids, particularly their daughters, like dollhouses more than model trains, and so were more enthralled with the miniature items on display meant to furnish tiny houses.

Blake Lecher records a trolley rolling away from him Saturday at the 2023 Maine3Railers Train & Dollhouse Show at the Augusta Armory. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“So this is a great combination,” she said of the model trains and dollhouses her family of eight home-schooled children from the Belfast area checked out Saturday, amongst a large crowd.

While Blake said he doesn’t really think he’ll get into model trains, older model train enthusiasts were happy to see the boys take an interest in their hobby.

“We’re really trying to get the kids involved,” said Art Shean of Topsham, a member of the model railroad club that put on the event this year and last year. “So, you have to have bright lights, moving things, have a remote they can operate, keep them occupied, give them buttons to push.”

Shean and Gene Thayer of Gardiner, president of Maine3Railers, both agreed the demographics of their club tend to be 70-year-olds and older. So while the armory was bustling with a good crowd Saturday, they see the importance of drawing new people in to the hobby, to keep it going.


Shean said he and three or four other members spent about four hours setting up the club’s running layout at the armory, using a pre-made plan that includes documentation of what track pieces need to go where in their setup.

“It’s a race against time,” he said of setting up and taking down the layouts.

Maine3Railers is a nonprofit organization founded in 1998 and, organizers say on the group’s website, is “the largest club in the state dedicated exclusively to the enjoyment and advancement of the O-Gauge, 3-rail, model railroad hobby.” O-Gauge refers to the size of the trains, which are about 1/48th the size of the real thing.

The group has around 120 members in Maine and New Hampshire. Some members set up their train track layouts in public venues, such as libraries, senior living centers, veterans’ homes, hospitals and fairs.

A Percy engine rolls through a display Saturday during the 2023 Maine3Railers Train & Dollhouse Show at the Augusta Armory. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Thayer said they have upcoming layouts planned at public libraries in Bath and then Topsham, where they set up and run the trains so people can see them. The group also had an elaborate model train setup at L.L.Bean for several weeks around the holidays, where trains ran 12 hours a day.

Dollhouse items included miniature versions of just about anything you’d find in a full-size house, from antique furniture, modern washer and dryer machines, plates and silverware, bathtubs, suitcases, lamps, and fake plants. One table featured a selection of miniature items with a sign noting children could each take up to three items, for free.

Thayer said nostalgia is a major draw to both model trains and dollhouses. He said he had an electric train set as a kid, one his dad had gotten him in the mid-1950s, but he then forgot about it and left it stored at his late mother’s for decades. Some 30 years ago, the now 72-year-old went to his mom’s and dug out his old trains. They still worked. And he still has them.

“In the 1950s, even toys were built to last,” he said.

The club’s layout at the show Saturday featured, among its multiple trains, an exact replica of a Maine Central Railroad GP38-2 engine, which officials said would have been just what would have been hauling train cars on the Lower Road line through Augusta, Gardiner, Hallowell and Richmond in the 1960s.

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