Monday, June 18, 2012

He's Been Training for Years

Don Spears didn't always love trains. He started out building model airplanes, before the days of Radio Control. But shortly after he married Lenora one of his planes, a beautiful free-flight plane with a 6-foot wingspan, caught a thermal and got away from him. He couldn't coax it down, he couldn't shoot it down. It spiraled up out of sight, never to be seen again.

It was time for a less risky hobby. He'd just learned about HO railroad track, how you can take a piece of track and shape it, creating curves and bends, so he decided to pursue trains. With the encouragement and assistance of Lenora's father, himself a train buff, he began collecting trains and tracks, creating sets and painting miniature backdrops for his trains.

His collection grew as he spent 25 years at Boeing, working as a technical artist and a marketing specialist. When he left Boeing, he and Lenora began Spears Graphics Express, a graphic arts business. The office, of course, featured trains.

When they retired they moved to Warm Beach Senior Community. At Warm Beach they were near family and friends (Don's father-in-law, Elmer McDowell, played a major role in the early days of the Senior ), a wonderful church, and a lovely community. But they didn't have trains. Don found the perfect spot to develop a train room, just between the nursing home's dining room and the hallway leading to the Garden Room restaurant. A mostly ignored patio, it needed some work, but Don had a plan. In 2002, He and a number of other volunteers got approval to convert it to a train room. That's when the real fun began.

Combining their interests and talents, the team put a roof over the patio, built and painted the sets, created buildings, and laid the track. They combined scales, including in their train room O Gauge (Standard Gauge engine), HO (half the size of the O Scale tracks), G Scale (Garden Scale, because it is often used outdoors), and N Scale, which is Standard Gauge for toy trains. The tracks run through tunnels, along mountainsides, over bridges, through towns, past a waterfall and even a volcano. Through their hard work (or was it hard fun?) and the donations of many friends, the train room became a part of the lives of the Warm Beach residents and guests.

Come on in. Take a look around The Train Station.

A recent addition, this plane was built by Paul Hammon,
a resident of WB Senior Community

Don took the photo below when he was standing behind the mountain. It gives a unique view of the train layout. If you look closely you can see that there are several sets of track here, each set carrying a different size train. It was designed to give the sense of perspective when you stand in front of the display, with the largest trains (G Gauge) in the front and the smallest (N Gauge) at the back.

An O train runs past one side of this station, and a G train runs past the other. The train station, built by Ken Gray, a Warm Beach resident in his 90s, was built to scale, so that each side is in proper scale for the train that it services!  The next two photos show both sides of the station.

Other meticulous structures built by Ken Gray.

I stood on guard waiting to get a train sailing past. As it turned out, I got three trains passing by!


Each piece of the train set is made with care by the volunteers. Don Spears did the construction and painting and keeps the system running. But many others help keep it running and the sets looking great. For example, Paul Johnson built the logging cars on this G train and found the sticks in the woods to make the logs. He's also cared for the lighting of the room. And when the wheels of one train car were removed for use on another car, the O'Brien Turkey House restaurant was fashioned to honor a favorite local eatery that has recently closed. Paul Johnson built, among other things

The brains of the operation

Residents can enjoy the trains from their places
at the table in the dining hall.
I asked Don if he has spent much time riding on the train. He said that in 2004 he and Lenora got an Amtrak Rail Pass that allowed them to travel for 30 days, wherever Amtrak goes. They traveled across Canada and visited Niagara Falls, New York City, Washington DC, Chicago, the Grand Canyon, Dallas. Sometimes they traveled in the sleeper cars, where the clickity-clack of the wheels and the rock and sway of the car brought a sense of joy and rest.

How about engineering a train, I asked. Have you ever done that? No, he said, but he got to ride in the cab of the engine once from Bellingham to Mt Vernon, videotaping the ride, while his grandson sat next to the engineer.

He and Lenora are hoping to hop a train again and take another trip, but for now he contents himself with engineering an entire network of trains, designed to bring joy to his neighbors and friends.


Joan Husby said...

So interesting, and your photos are wonderful. What talented people reside at Warm Beach!

Anonymous said...

Outstanding! Thanks for sharing!

wonderfullynneblog said...

Loved it! Great to see this one publicized...Nancy

margaret elaine said...

This is a great tribute to the work that Dad and Paul have done in the Train Room. What a great place it is!! Thanks Ginger!