Miniature trains make big difference for food bank

Jack Tingstad holds a controller for one of his electric engines next to his model railroad.  - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
Jack Tingstad holds a controller for one of his electric engines next to his model railroad.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

In the past, Whidbey Island resident Jack Tingstad’s model railroad open house helped collect more than 500 pounds of food for the Gifts from the Heart food bank in Coupeville and that was just over one weekend. Talk about the little engine that could.

For the 10th consecutive year, Tingstad is opening up his home to the public to explore his ever-expanding model railroad and to help feed the hungry during the holiday season.

Tingstad served as a sixth grade teacher at Coupeville Elementary for 25 years before retiring, and though his train hobby has become one of his main focuses since, he’s been interested in it for about 60 years. Tingstad said he built model ships in middle school but was always secretly envious of his friend’s father’s model railroad.

“I was always sneaking glances at it,” he said.

Now Tingstad has his own railroad to show off, and he’s put 14 years of work into the layout. His basement walls are painted to reflect an open sky. He spent time chiseling away at plastic castings and styrofoam with dull knives and screwdrivers to form lifelike cliffs and rugged landscapes. Additionally, he’s traveled around the Northwest collecting decorative pieces for his model at different trade shows. And Tingstad’s hard work has been recognized. His layout has been featured multiple times in national hobby magazines for its excellent craftsmanship. Titled “Cloud City & Western,” the railroad depicts scenes from central Colorado’s mining district around Leadville.

Tingstad said visitors seem to really enjoy looking at the dozens of miniature scenes scattered throughout the railroad that offer different glimpses into the old horse and buggy lifestyle. He said scenes force the public to see the details and that often kids run around trying to find the stubborn mules, workers and lumberjacks.

Tingstad can run eight engines at once in his 12 by 21 foot room setup and most of the engines make realistic sound effects. However, during the open house, he plans to run just two or three to allow for more walking room for visitors.

As in years past, Tingstad expects a few hundred people to come to the event. He’ll be handing out free train magazines and answering any model-related questions. He said when he first started doing the open house, he felt that he was one of the few around interested in model railroads, but now a newsletter goes out to 70 area locals.

“The open house has been a real nice way to get to know people in the hobby,” he said.

The event will take place the weekend after Thanksgiving from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 27 and 28 at Tingstad’s home located at 508 NW Broadway St. in Coupeville. Admission is free, but attendees are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item for the food bank.

All aboard!

  • What: Open house for nationally recgonized model railroad.

  • When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., this weekend, Nov. 27 and 28.

  • Where: Jack Tingstad’s home, 508 NW Broadway St. in Coupeville.

  • Cost: Admission is free, but non-perishable food item donations for the Gifts from the Heart food bank are encouraged.

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