The love of all things vehicular is the heart of Curbside Classic. While that is primarily a love of old cars out on the streets, trains and model cars show up here occasionally. What hasn’t been covered much are model trains. I’m confident this oversight isn’t due to a lack of interest, just a lack of subjects. Provided for your enjoyment today is a fantastic subject: a super-sized model train and diorama display I recently had the privilege of staring slack jawed at.
I’ve never been to a county fair before, unless you count the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo which is the defacto Harris County fair, though it’s not really county as it draws people and animals from the state and region. It does not have any model trains, sadly. I have been to the Arizona State Fair, which had in the 90’s a large model train display. It was nothing like this, though. I’ve seen a number of other model train displays, all cool in their own way, but this is by far the largest in my limited experience.
The Clay County Fair in Spencer, northwest Iowa, is the world’s greatest county fair* (*self-proclaimed, accuracy unconfirmed). I have no basis of comparison, but it was pretty great. I’ll share a few other Fair sights at the end for anyone interested, but the focal point for many CC readers would naturally be the sizable, unassuming, flat roofed building that is dedicated to scale railroading.
We were visiting family in the area in early September, unaware that it happened to be Fair Week. It was a happy coincidence, as we all had a fairly fun time. I would gladly have spent twice as long in the train building, in fact I practically had to be dragged away! But I’ll be grateful for what I got.
Note about photos: The web host CC uses has a limit on the size of photos published, so most photos are reduced to 1/2 or 1/3 of the original pixels. This isn’t a problem for the usual real world vehicles, but for a detailed miniature landscape like this, full size images are much better. So, you can click on the photos like normal and get a somewhat bigger image, but if you want the full Monty I included a link under each photo. Or you can go to the album in a separate window and see all the pictures, but they are not in the same order.
Starting from what I’ll call Corner #1, the pictures will go clockwise 360 degrees around the display, which estimated roughly 75 feet by 20 feet (actually 100 x 36 I just found out). I apologize in advance for any glare or poor focus. The display is wisely behind glass, so not ideal for photography.
There are parts that are clearly meant to represent sights around the area, but not the mountains unless there is some range in Iowa I’m not familiar with.
This is the only region experiencing winter. Not caught well by the camera is Santa Claus flying over the town (flying in a circle on wire suspended from ceiling).
As winter fades, the town transitions to a harbor.
This is the highlight of the harbor. The train cars dump their load through the grates and chutes drop it into cargo ships moored below.
Dividing the harbor is the control center, which didn’t photograph well (try to look through the reflections). The controls are extensive, though it’s pretty compact, with only space for a few Engineers.
Next is a rail yard. Also a small airport, so now with the harbor and the trucks plying the roads all modes of transport are accounted for even in this rail-centric simulated world.
Past the rail yard is a mining area that goes to Corner #2.
Corner #2 from the other direction.
Close up of the mining area. The bulldozer in the pit moves back and forth.
vehicles are not always religiously HO scale. The vehicles would be my only real criticism of the diorama, as they are a hodgepodge of eras, makes, and scales, bearing no relationship to any known reality. E.g. the 54-57 Mercedes 300 SL gullwing is probably the most common car throughout. I’d love to see a model railroad take the cars seriously.
Out of the mountain range flows a river which will run for most of the way on this side of the mountains, where there are naturally several communities.
This video gives a good idea of some of the active tracks and trains.
Corner #3 is a compacted representation of the Clay County Fair.
Tractor display fields at the Fair, which we will see more of later.
Same town from the other direction.
Town transitions into an industrial area.
Check out the awesome bridge in the far background. Can you can spot Mt. Rushmore?
The refinery district looks like it could be on the east side of Houston (my town), known for its extensive petrochemical plants.
Past “East Houston” is a desolate oilfield landscape.
It ain’t pretty, but that crude oil for the refineries has to come from somewhere, doesn’t it? I love the polluted-looking water pit.
Note the variety of bridges in the background.
The next town looks like a happier place with its permanent parade running down Main Street.
On the near side of the tracks, a crew is busy building a new highway.
The happy town also has a drive-in movie theater.
The town pays its bills with grain and chemical storage facilities conveniently located next to rail lines, so the plentiful trains that run in the area can haul it to the other side of the mountain.
A quartet of bridges is in the background. Around the drive-in transitions to farmland.
Rural Iowa is represented with a cornfield and, in the 21st century, the obligatory wind farm.
The town in corner #4 has some impressive, stately buildings.
And a handsome public swimming pool.
Going around the mountain leads us back to Corner #1 and a complete change in weather with a different angle of the winter town.
Looking from corner #4, video of one of the trains and the functional windmills.
Back at corner #1, check out one more train. I was super-impressed by this petrochemical train. It’s the only model train I’ve ever seen that approaches realism in length and homogeneity. In the real world, when one sees a cross-country train, it often has only one type of car going past in a seemingly endless stream. I’ve never seen that in a model train to this extent. It has 77 cars including the three locomotives pulling and one pushing. On the drive home, I was able to count a couple of long trains, which had between 100 and 125 cars. So, pretty close for a model! Just needs graffiti.
Also in the train building, there was a 1:25 scale farm display. Lots of stuff to look at. The claim to fame, though, is a couple dozen or more very well done scratch built model tractors.
Including this line of vintage John Deeres.
Lots of farming implements, too. I’m not sure those are scratch built, but possibly.
From the miniature, to the gigantic, the Fair had you covered. Farmers and other tractor enthusiasts were treated to a huge tractor display. I won’t even attempt to show the extent of it, just give you a flavor.
An outsized Fendt Ideal combine harvester distorts one’s sense of scale.
I loved the coloring of the Fendt Vario tractors.
If the Fendt harvester was too much for you, a CaseIH Axial Flow 150 might be the one.
This is not your grandfather’s John Deere. Track tractors seem to be the new thing in extra large farm equipment. Nothing will stop you in a 9620RX.
There were lots of other attractions at the Fair, like rides, countless handsome animals, auto racing (not the day I was there), a horse/rider costume contest, pumpkins up to 725 pounds, and of course all variety of food available on sticks. I’ll just leave you with one entertaining sample:
A baby duckling water slide. I’ve never seen one of those before!
And finally, if you’ve made it this far and you’re somehow still interested, I can’t resist showing a clip of a magic show. The magician, Jared Sherlock, was quite good, but I loved it because my 9 year old daughter got to go up and assist him on stage.
Thank you for indulging me. The trick is impressive unless you figured out how he did it and I’m sure you found my daughter as adorable as I do. If you just have to see the other half of the video (it’s a pretty good trick), click thru to youtube.
I haven’t found anything online about the railroad or the club that maintains it.
Museum Classic: Okoboji Classic Cars – Where The Cars Are Not The Star Another Clay County attraction that I wrote up a few years ago. A full size diorama, if that’s a thing.