- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Louis Eggerding revived his interest in model railroading about 20 years ago when he began seeing trains he had as a boy in antique stores.

“The first ones that I bought didn’t run, but I soon learned where to find repair parts and repair manuals,” he said. “My interests grew from there.”

As president of the Ozark division, Eggerding represents the national Train Collectors Association in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of Illinois.

The Columbia Missourian (http://bit.ly/1HzOpB5 ) reports that the Ozark division, established in 1967, has about 220 members, but it’s become a challenge to attract young enthusiasts. Only 10 of the members are below the age of 12.

Eggerding, who traces his own interest in the hobby to childhood, believes the number of collectors is in slow decline.

“The people I see at our train shows are mostly older males, quite often with their grandchildren in tow,” he said. “But there are also a growing minority of younger collectors. The biggest missing group is teenagers and young adults.”

In an attempt to address the lack of young model train enthusiasts, the national branch of the Train Collectors Association has established a kids club that offers free membership for anyone up to age 18 with a sponsor from the association.

“Toy trains take effort and creativity, and people used to computer skills and games are hard to get involved,” Eggerding said.

Eggerding said that for the past two years the Ozark division has attempted to recruit young hobbyists by creating a local kids club chairman who tries to connect with kids and their parents at Train Collectors Association events.

Richard Malon of Columbia, secretary of the Train Collectors Association’s central Missouri chapter, has been interested in trains “ever since I can remember.” He’s bought and sold hundreds over the years and had a management role in the Columbia Terminal Railroad as director of the city Water and Light Department.

Malon and Eggerding point to changing interests as one explanation for the lack of young people entering model railroading.

“The demographic is aging,” Malon said. “The younger folks are more interested in computer games.”

Cost can also be a factor, Malon said, but it doesn’t have to be. Model trains at the Train Collectors Association’s annual swap meet ranged from $1.95 for tiny trains to $1,145 for a Lionel Southern Diesel set manufactured between 1954 and 1956 that included one engine and six cars.

“You can make it expensive if you’re so inclined,” Malon said, but it is also possible to “have a lot of fun and not spend more than you would on any other hobby.”

Aubrey Van Houten, a vendor at the swap meet on Nov. 7 at the Senior Activity Center in Columbia, became interested in model trains as a boy when he built a layout with his two brothers in their grandmother’s basement.

“We had a pretty sophisticated layout for three kids,” he said.

Forty years later, model railroading has become “a family hobby,” he said. “We bond over train collecting.”

There are also artistic and even competitive components to Van Houten’s collection. His own displays are representations of the Moberly community where he grew up, and he places emphasis on detail and authenticity. “The goal of the displays is to recreate the community, to recreate a society,” he said.

Van Houten attempts to achieve this sense of realism by crafting his own miniature scenery. He builds his own cedar trees from cone flowers grown in his garden, makes loads for gondola cars out of painted straws and steel columns from painted plastic receipt paper tubes. “My brothers and I, we just try to outdo each other for realism.”

There’s no shortage of youthful interest in model railroading in his family.

“I have six grandchildren, and they’re all model train enthusiasts,” Van Houten said. “They really enjoy watching the sets.”

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Information from: Columbia Missourian, http://www.columbiamissourian.com

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