- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

MONUMENT, Colo. (AP) - To say Bob Bandy has a model train hobby is like saying Peyton Manning sometimes tosses a football around in the yard.

In the basement of his Gleneagle home, Bandy and a devoted team of railroad enthusiasts are building an incredible model train layout.

Words can’t do justice to the intricate layout of HO-scale railroad track that 75-year-old Bandy and his friends are creating.

Elevated on a welded-steel skeleton frame covered with plywood, the track runs the perimeter of his 2,600-square-foot basement then winds into the room, running over and under its self on bridges and tunnels through plaster rock mountains.

But that description fails to capture the incredible beauty, historic authenticity and precision of Bandy’s basement train layout.

The walls behind the perimeter tracks are a seamless display of large photographic backdrops that vary as you move about the room.

One scene is the Puget Sound and the Pacific Northwest, then the Canadian Rockies, over here a Wyoming refinery scene.

But the photos pale compared to the mountains, rivers, waterfalls, cities, mining towns, railyards and more that line the tracks.

Oh, then there are the bridges that are historically accurate depictions of actual spans.

And when you get to the back of the room, you may catch yourself doing a double-take in front of the dead-on re-creation of Pulpit Rock along North Nevada Avenue in Colorado Springs.

Perhaps Tim McMahon, vice president of the board of the Colorado Model Railroad Museum in Greeley, best describes Bandy and his creation.

“In this hobby, there are varying degrees of accomplishment,” said McMahon, who lives in Colorado Springs and is one of Bandy’s volunteers.

“There are toy trains and model railroaders and there are varying degrees of experts.

“This is the Sistine Chapel of hobby railroads and Bob is Michelangelo.”

It’s hard to comprehend until you’ve seen it.

After about 18 months of design work, Bob was ready when he and his wife, Lou Ann, built their new home in 2000. But Pikes Peak Regional Building officials weren’t ready for him. It took him months to get approval for his custom basement, which includes stair-stepped pits in the concrete floor to allow easy walking underneath areas where he intended to run track.

He’s spent the last 15 years bringing all his plans to life.

It wasn’t as simple as laying track around store-bought scenery.

Just about everything in the basement has Bandy’s fingerprints on it.

All the mountains that the tracks run over and through are hand-created plaster rock that were sculpted and painted to resemble specific areas of the country represented in each particular scene.

Bridges are all engineered and hand-built by Bandy and his team, some with dozens of piers and cross-cutting timbers and painted to show the rust and weathering of decades-old structures they reflect.

That’s especially true of the replica of the Cisco Bridge in British Columbia at the center of his design.

Houses, buildings and mining structures are mostly hand-built. Even the tiny trees and bushes are mostly hand-made.

The numbers are staggering.

Bandy said there is more than 6,000 feet of track running hither and yon in his basement. (Imagine more than a mile of garden hose snaking around your basement.)

There are literally tons of plaster rock, 1,200 tiny trees, and hundreds of scale train cars, many Bandy hand-painted.

Running underneath all that track is a another mile of electric wiring to power the trains.

Perhaps most impressive is Bandy’s encyclopedia-like knowledge of the various railroads represented.

To Bandy, McMahon and the dozen or so volunteers, this is much more than a hobby.

“I see it as a visual teaching tool on how railroads developed this country,” Bandy said, launching into a primer on how the West was won by men riding iron horses.

He believes the role of the railroad in developing the U.S. has become misunderstood over time.

His dozen or so scenes try to reflect how the masses followed the trains, filling the towns the railroad companies built along the way and expanding the U.S. from coast to coast.

There are mines represented including the gold camps of Victor and Cripple Creek, logging operations, mills and more scenes from the birth of the nation.

What little about railroad and U.S. history Bandy can’t recall is supplemented by a library of books he keeps in the basement.

In a way, the basement is a natural outgrowth of Bandy’s professional life as a commercial artist and his lifelong love affair with trains.

Of his team, a half dozen are retired and the others still hold jobs. They come over days, nights and weekends. Most have specialties like the computer and electrical or the plaster molding or carpentry. Bandy is the one with the vision who orchestrates it all.

McMahon said calling Bandy’s work a hobby doesn’t do it justice.

“This man is an artist, not just a model railroader,” McMahon said. “This is about human creativity. It’s truly extraordinary.”

So what’s next? Even though train tracks seemingly fill the basement, Bandy insists he’s only about 60 percent finished. And it’s true there are new mountains being built and sketches of buildings on some of the few bare planks of plywood.

McMahon said once all the tracks are laid, the crew will begin adding more buildings and details.

“About 75 percent of the scenery is done but there are only a few places with life on the railroad,” McMahon said. “We want to bring life to most of the railroad.”

And then he and Bandy list all the things yet to be built.

“You are never really done with a project like this,” Bandy said.

Especially when he likes to go back and change things he’s already built, McMahon said.

As I was leaving, I thought about and what happens when Bandy is gone. He has built an intricate, elaborate ship in a bottle. It is never coming out of that basement. Nor should it.

But I can’t help wondering about the future of Bandy’s masterpiece.

“I’ve got a son-in-law who is into the hobby,” he said, after resisting the difficult question at first. “I don’t like to think about it. I hope it will be preserved for people to see and enjoy.”

Luckily we don’t have to worry about that now. We can just marvel at what Bandy and his team are creating.

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