All are welcomed aboard at Jack Tingstad’s upcoming model railroad open house.
Each year, Tingstad brings the past to life in careful, painstaking detail. For years, the retired schoolteacher has opened his doors for curious visitors to gaze upon 250 feet of miniature railroad track with moving replica steam engines, surrounded by towering depictions of a Colorado mountainside, a bustling mining town and dozens of busy, one-inch citizens going about their daily lives.
Tingstad converted the basement of his home into a display titled, “Cloud City and Western,” showing a slice of the mining town Leadville, Colo., also known as Cloud City.
The scene, in miniature, depicts the era from the 1900s to 1930s, he said.
This may be the last year for Tingstad’s popular train display because of other commitments, so interested locals shouldn’t miss this year’s event, he said.
The 17th annual layout is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 24 and Sunday, Nov. 25 at Tingstad’s home, located at 508 Broadway in Coupeville.
His hard work has earned him several awards over the years and features in the magazines Railroad Model Craftsman and Model Railroad Hobbyist. In particular, it’s been recognized for its excellence in scenery, structures and electrical wiring.
The award he’s most proud of, however, was his earning of the title of “master model railroader” last year.
“There’s only (about) 600 of us in the country,” he said. This claim to fame required him to complete a number of complicated projects that showcase the model train hobby.
Tingstad said he especially enjoyed building the mountain scenery, which shows Tennessee Pass, the cliffs of Glenwood Canyon and the New Crystal River Mine.
“Mainly I like the colors,” he said. “Colorado really appeals to me so I chose that.”
Tingstad said he selected a scale size that’s small, but large enough to allow for fun details — known as “HO scale size.”
“It’s one-eighty-seventh of the real thing,” he said. “With this size you can get a lot of detail.”
You can see the little figures working hard, carrying lumber on their backs, waiting for a train, reading the newspaper, eating lunch, even using an outhouse.
His hobby is fun, but not exactly easy.
“The biggest misconception is that it’s just grown men playing with trains,” he said. “It’s actually mentally and physically challenging in many ways, to plan the whole thing. You’ve got carpentry, electricity… (it’s not) just toys running around in a circle.”
His unique hobby started many years ago, with a neighbor who introduced him to the craft when he was in high school. At the time, he was into building model ships and eventually switched over.
Keen-eyed visitors may quickly spot all kinds of whimsical surprises scattered throughout his landscape: a bear sneaking up on man pooping in the woods with his pants down, wild animals, tiny white specks on top of a building that are actually small birds, miners panning for gold and other, less historically-accurate additions. Tingstad has added in a scavenger hunt list, so visitors can keep a look out for several items, including Dracula in the cemetery, Santa and his helper and the Loch Ness Monster.
Each year, he switches up the “I spy” list to keep it fresh for repeat visitors.
The sprawling display has the ability to fascinate children and adults alike. Tingstad laughed as he recalled one man who’s favorite pick was a rusty old junk pile.
“This pile of junk was his favorite thing,” he said incredulously.
Another time, he recalled one child who was mesmerized by all the details.
“He must have been standing there staring for 45 minutes before his mom said, ‘come on, it’s time to go,’” Tingstad said. The young man still did not want to budge.
For the most part, visitors are respectful of the museum-like display.
“I try to make a lot of things museum-quality,” he said. And that also means, you can look, but don’t touch.
“The only problem I’ve had in 15 years was a lady who picked up a train like this,” he said, raising up a car, “and looked at the bottom and set it down. No one’s ever done that before.”
The display is handicapped-accessible, and to avoid a big crowd, he suggests coming in early or late, around 10 a.m. or 3 p.m.
He doesn’t charge a fee, but requests that people bring a food item to give to the Gifts from the Heart Food Bank, where he volunteered for nine years.
Typically, he ends up collecting 500 pounds of donations, he said. This year, he hopes to once again get at least 250 visitors.
“I still have space in my guest book,” he said with a laugh.