Workin’ on (mini) railroad
Model train enthusiast has collected since 1974
With a visit to Tom Stolte’s property near Jarbalo, one can travel from Kansas City to Omaha, Neb., in a matter of moments.
A building measuring 20 feet by 40 feet is home to Stolte’s hobby: model trains. More than 1,500 feet of track connects various communities in the display. Kansas City, Atchison, Leavenworth, Lincoln, Neb., and Omaha, Neb., are a few of the communities represented in the display that runs along the walls at two levels: about 4-5 feet from the floor and another level at 7 feet. Track also meanders throughout the building at the lower level as well.
“I told Mom one year, ‘I’ll get you a crockpot if you get me a train set,’” Stolte said. “I’ve been into it ever since.”
Stolte started collecting model trains in 1974. His love for trains grew from trips in which he tagged along with his father taking livestock to the stockyards in Kansas City, Mo.
“We’d always drive by the Santa Fe yard,” Stolte said.
These days, the only way to go is MoPac, or Missouri Pacific, in Stolte’s opinion, as various MoPac signage can be found throughout the display. The building was finished in November 2008 and continued work on the display has taken place since then.
Stolte previously had worked for a few printing companies in the area. When he was laid off at his last printing company job in 1992, he went to work full-time making miniature railroad decals and has been in that profession ever since. His business is called Oddball Decals, oddballdecals.org.
In the model train building, replica grain elevators and other structures dot the display at each stop. For instance, Don Bronec of McLouth, who works for Stolte helping create the display, built a replica of the Blair Feeds building in Atchison. The structure placed first at the Turkey Creek Meet, a National Model Railroad Association contest, in Lenexa in 2009.
Paul Knowles of St. Joseph, Mo., and Kirk Freeman, McLouth, also work for Stolte assembling the exhibit.
As Knowles noted, creating the replica buildings takes time. He estimated work on a building for a stop in Willis, Kan., which is near Hiawatha, required a total of three or four months to finish. Another small town, Weeping Water, Neb., is a stop on the way to Lincoln and Omaha.
In the “Leavenworth” area of the display is a replica of a Geiger Ready-Mix building and the former Bay State Mill. The actual mill no longer is standing in Leavenworth.
For a replica of the Stolte family’s original homestead, which Stolte built tiny board by tiny board, Freeman created a cornfield — with about 1,000 miniature ears of corn. In addition, Freeman painted a backdrop complete with about 1,200 trees.
“I counted all those trees and I mind-numbingly did that,” Freeman said.
Bronec dubbed Freeman as the group’s “ar-teest” for all his artistic backdrops.
“I don’t know about that,” Freeman said with a groan.
Work continues on the display, but Stolte already has welcomed visitors. A group of about 10 from the MoPac Historical Society visited the exhibit. Stolte had planned to have open houses on Sundays in January, but the winter weather has caused a cancellation of those plans. He now is planning for Sunday afternoon showings in May.
“It’s definitely great to see this all come together,” Knowles said.
Bronec agreed, noting it’s rewarding to take plastic and other materials and see it transform into an array of replica structures.
“Of all the jobs I’ve had in my life, it’s the best one I’ve ever had,” Freeman said.