By Linda Dillman
As childhood gives way to adulthood, toys once cherished are often put away and forgotten, but in a backroom in the Queen of the Line Depot in Canal Winchester, childlike wonder is alive and flourishing.
Years ago, a group of small-scale model train enthusiasts, who met at the Ohio Expo Center, were looking for a new home and found one in Canal Winchester.
“They (Columbus Area N Scalers) were looking for a place to move permanently,” said longtime Canal Winchester resident Pat Hartman, as she sat among the room-filing train layout in the depot. “This room was empty, so they started setting things up here. There were eight people at the time and it was around 1995.”
Years later, the layout fell into disuse and its fate was threatened in 2019. Canal Winchester Area Historical Society Vice President Larry Flowers credited Hartman with stepping in and saving it.
“When they said they wanted to tear it down, I said absolutely not,” recalled Hartman, who said Flowers called her last Christmas Eve and told her about the situation before he contacted retiree and train aficionado Bill Brobst, Jr.
Flowers said people like Brobst stepped up with donations of time, talent, money and material, including local artist Sandy Packer who had a hand in turning the backdrop into a vivid blue sky filled with clouds.
Brobst and fellow volunteers spent the year turning the dilapidated and forlorn model train layout into one representing the route from the south Columbus Brewery District and Front Street to Canal Winchester and on to Carroll before traveling to a quarry south of Lancaster.
“We’re expanding to Lancaster, then on to southern Ohio and ending in a mountain and coal mine in a loop layout,” said Brobst, who said the original RCAN layout was not only renovated, but expanded as well.
Starting with a plywood base, layers of plaster were built up to create the topography of areas connected by trains traveling along small tracks. Stained sawdust was used for grass and both kit and custom-made structures line the streets of towns along the line.
Visitors can get a close-up look through plexiglass shields installed to facilitate the viewing of replicas of Columbus landmarks and architectural icons of Canal Winchester, including a canal boat plying the waters downtown and a nearby interurban car.
The small-scale Prentiss schoolhouse awaits its small charges as well as a miniaturized depot, elevator and water plant. The floor of the train display room is covered in salvaged Nelsonville star pavers and circle pavers.
“All of downtown buildings are handmade, including the interurban and drawbridge,” said Brobst. “The day they installed the water on the display was the same day they took down the water tower in town. The idea is to develop and re-develop, add a little realism and have it operate like a real train. There are two separate loops that can run simultaneously or on one big loop.”
Brobst said children love to visit the display and volunteers love to show it off as well. Hartman said before the original display fell into disrepair, children as far away as Westerville would visit the depot layout.
“It’s wonderful that we can preserve things like this,” said Hartman.
Flowers said the historical society plans to open the display to the public sometime in early 2021.
“This will be a work in progress as long as there is someone interested in trains,” said Brobst. “It’s turned into a labor of love.”