Ticket to ride

Ticket to ride

The Saint Charles Model Railroad Club brings a love of trains to Fort Zumwalt Park

By Brett Auten

Nestled in O’Fallon’s Fort Zumwalt Park, just northeast of the lake, is a world unto itself.

Inside the yellow-bricked building with red windows, splayed out over 800-square feet of track, run the trains of the Saint Charles Model Railroad Club, hugging the corners of a track lush with nature scene before dropping off riders in a 1970s small-town America. As you look closer, the minute details reveal a diver in mid-flight, a lazy summer baseball dugout and a corner barbershop. Meanwhile, upwards of 10 different trains briskly hum and whistle along.

A sign welcomes guests as the club keeps open public display hours during the weekend on Fridays from 7 – 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 – 5 p.m.

The club was founded in 1981 and has continued thanks to an attraction to model trains, the PlayStations of decades past. 

Mike Tuerck, President of the Saint Charles Model Railroad Club, has been with the club from the beginning. Tuerck, like the others, believes that model railroading is a fascinating hobby and it’s the club’s mission is to promote the hobby and have a great time while doing so. 

Tuerck’s interest in trains dates back to when he was four years old, and his family would take a train from Southern Illinois to St. Louis. 

“We would be waiting before sun up, and this big engine would come lumbering out of the dark,” Tuerck said. “It shook the ground.”

With members having many specific talents and interests, like some who specialize in the extensive model scenes (7,000 handmade trees, for example) and putting together cars, or those who prefer the more mathematical aspects of laying varying degrees of putting down the track, the club situation allows all members to thrive.

“I’m a scenery guy,” Tuerck said. “I get a satisfaction out of building a scene and making it’s really supposed to look.”

Jim Burton, a St. Charles County resident, leans more to the electrical side. Burton’s father worked on the railroads and once he retired, collected a set. He would inherit the model trains and a friend at church introduced him to the club, and he’s been here for 15 years. When the club went to the modern Digital Command Control (DCC) systems to power its trains, which allows for more realistic operation, Burton was in hook, line, and sinker.

“It was paradise,” Burton said. “To get different trains going in different directions on the same track.”

The club’s purpose is not only to educate the interested so that they may also become members, but also push the boundaries for the current members who are willing to study and discuss new ideas and techniques in modeling are. But, it’s mostly about having a good time. 

“It’s not drinking, lying and telling stories; it’s running trains, lying and telling stories,” Burton said. 

Membership is open to anyone over 15 years of age with a love of trains. There is a Junior Membership with adult sponsor also available. A membership form can be printed out and brought to any club meeting.

“Everybody’s had a train set underneath their Christmas tree at one time or another,” Tuerck said. “When you hear the engines crank up it is something the young and old can enjoy.”

For any and all information, visit www.stcharlesrailroadclub.org.

CUTLINE: Photos by Ray Rockwell These models are part of a display built by the Saint Charles Model Railroad Club at their building in Fort Zumwalt Park in O’Fallon.