GRANBY —For generations, the small model train encircling a colorful tree has been a Christmas icon.
For Dave Naples, a Christmas Lionel model sparked his imagination at 8 years old, and ignited a passion for trains that lasted a lifetime. Now 63, Naples shares his fascination through the Grand County Model Railroad Club Christmas Display, which has evolved into a local holiday tradition.
“It’s the whistles, the bells and the lights, the action, all the fun little things you can do with them,” he said. “It’s looking at trains going around a tree, or on a layout, and the imagination that’s inspired for little boys and little girls.”
Each season, Naples and members of the Model Railroad Club build a miniature world. Replicas of the 1970s Ski Train, Harry Potter’s Hogwarts train and the iconic Polar Express chug over mountains and bridges, through tunnels and snow-dusted pine forests, and into a charismatic village complete with tiny people, a spinning carousel and a whirling trolley. The entire display includes 46 buildings, many of them handmade. Its four trains are computer-operated. They clang bells, blow smoke and “communicate” with central control on command. The display even includes a “Where’s Waldo?” treasure-hunt list so families can explore the tiny world’s many details. Beyond fueling young imaginations, Naples said modeling is a useful hobby in developing life skills, too.
“It’s extremely good tool to help develop a child’s dexterity, artistic abilities and fields of interest,” he said.
Naples enjoys trains of all sizes, and also draws inspiration from Colorado’s colorful railroad history. He’s a train historian and helped found Granby’s Moffat Railroad Museum. The Christmas display is a lively tool for sharing his rail knowledge with visitors, like details about his favorite real-life rail line, the Moffat Road. Still the highest standard-gauge line ever built in the United States, the Moffat line finally put Denver on a transcontinental line through an arduous pass into Middle Park.
Naples and other Rail Club members get to put all their train knowledge to work through models like the Christmas display. With each rail they lay, train they build and structure they frame, the modelers create replicas paying homage to history and true-life feats of engineering.
“A lot of people will tell you when they get older, they still use stuff they learned building model railroads,” he said. “It’s OK to be over 8 years old and still play with trains.”
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.