Inside Kaley Hoffman’s North Delta basement, the sound of trains chugging mixes with the electric whir of wheels on track.
Hoffman carefully places a model of a VIA Rail passenger car on the railway he has built along his basement wall. The wheels have to line up exactly with the metal track for the electric current to flow through them and illuminate the lights inside, and Hoffman is meticulous.
The car is the same as the one Hoffman and his wife travelled in for their 20th wedding anniversary, only in miniature.
“I never really used to model VIA Rail,” Hoffman said. “But after the trip, I thought I really got to get some of these … because you stayed on it. You slept on the train, you ate on the train.
“It’s just the memory,” he continued. “There’s a connection.”
Hoffman’s connection to trains has been present since childhood. Growing up in Penticton, he spent years exploring the remains of the Kettle Valley Railway around his home. When he was eight or nine and his parents gave him his first model train set, it just made since to extend that exploration of the railway to models.
Now in his 40s, Hoffman’s interest in modelling trains has been passed on to his 17-year-old son Kyler. Together, the two have turned a portion of their basement into a railway reminiscent of B.C.’s Interior, but each has his own interest in the hobby.
“I guess that’s one of the neat things about the hobby, there’s kind of a little bit for everybody,” Kaley Hoffman said. Some modellers excel in carpentry, building the underlying forms of mountains and caverns for the miniature landscapes. Others prefer scenery building, creating of tiny houses and minute tree with leaves that shiver in the breeze.
“You can actually hand-lay your own track, where you get individual wooden ties and you spike them down,” Kaley added. “I’m not into that … I kind of like the operational side and building the trains.”
Kyler, on the other hand, prefers the detail work.“Sometimes I’m working on a locomotive or car and I have multiple pictures all spread out of what they would have looked like,” he said. “So I disassemble the locomotive or car [from] how they came in and add all sorts of my own details to make it as good-looking as possible.”
Much of this work happens in the Hoffmans’ North Delta home. But, as Kaley noted, “there’s only so much you can do in your own basement.”
That’s where the Delta Model Railway Club comes in.
Started in 2008 by 40 local hobbyists, the club was intended to create a space for people to share expertise, ideas and their love of model trains. Currently, there are around 25 active members.
For 10 years the club has called Ladner Baptist Church home. Once a month, club members pull out their two-foot by four-foot modules, click them together and run trains in the church’s basement. Each module is made by different members of the club, and each has its own unique set of scenery.
“We wanted to have freedom of expression, do whatever you want,” club president Stewart Goumans said. “So as long as your two tracks meet on either end, you do whatever you want inside.”
|A scene from Kaley and Kyler Hoffman’s modular railway layout, which will be at the Tsawwassen Town Centre Mall on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
Grace Kennedy photo
There are other standards of course — the electrical work has to be compatible, and the trains have to be the same scale — but the scenery can be whatever the modeller wants. Some build farms, others have their trains run through cities. The Hoffmans created one module that sees the train track running past a coal building and protest.
“We’ve got the Carbon Neutral Coal Company, which is where we thought we’d poke a bit of fun at the current political climate,” Kaley explained.
Modules are good because it allows the club to set up and take down the railway whenever they need to, but that is also one of the reasons why the club is now looking for a new home.
In February, the club began looking for a permanent residence after the church informed them it wanted to reclaim the storage room where the club puts some of its equipment. The request didn’t come as a surprise to Goumans.
“We were toying with the idea for years, it just never got off the ground,” he said about the move. Now, they’re on the search for a permanent home that will allow the club to have a space where they can host clinics and workshops, and that will give members more of an opportunity to play with the trains.
“We’re actually working with a couple places to figure out where we can find a home,” Goumans said. A storefront in the Tsawwassen Town Centre Mall is one possibility.
“They actually thought it was a great idea,” Goumans said. But the mall isn’t completely convinced, he added, so the club will be hosting a pop-up event at there to gauge public interest.
On Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., the Delta Model Railway Club will be setting up a train track that spans 60-feet by 16-feet. Featuring 34 different modules from a number of different members, it will not only showcase some of work down by local modellers, but also give the public a chance to run the trains.
“Some of our trains are $1,200 each,” Goumans said, “but we don’t mind handing the control to the general public and letting them try it, just so they can get interested.”
“Of course, I have another one in the back so I can hit the emergency stop button, just in case,” he added.
Another goal at the Tsawwassen event is to generate awareness for the club, and possibly find some new members.
“We’re here and we want to show that it’s a very open club,” Goumans said. “We just definitely want people to come out to see where we’re at, what we’re all about as a club and where we want to go.”