- Associated Press - Sunday, March 2, 2014

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - The thought that would change Bob Baden’s life came to him while he was in the U.S. Army Air Corps, shortly after he was transferred to New Guinea in 1943 to help defend against the Japanese invasion.

“I don’t know why it happened, but my mind says, ‘After I get out of this, I’m going to go into model railroading,” Baden, 94, said last week as he relaxed in a chair in his west Casper home.

More than 70 years later, Baden has remained true to his word, as evidenced by a sprawling layout of train tracks, miniature towns and antique models that take up most of his basement.

In addition to amassing that collection, which has grown during his more than half century in Casper, Baden worked for several railroads following the war, took steps to open his own hobby shop long ago and helped establish a local model train club geared toward ushering in a new generation of enthusiasts.

Baden, who wears glasses and is slightly hard of hearing - especially over the phone - recalls in a gruff voice details about his life that happened decades ago.

“I had asked for a toy train for Christmas in 1929, but then the big depression hit,” he said. “Instead, the next day, I got a baby brother.”

Baden, who has lived in the same house in Casper for 54 years, has no trouble maneuvering down the 10 or so wooden steps into his basement, where he keeps his treasure: a lifetime supply of model trains, tracks and tools. Trains and train memorabilia fill the entire space, which is unfinished. Old engines line shelves and tables.

He still spends hours there each week. His crowning achievement is a 12-by-24-foot sprawl of train track, built from scratch, with a replica of the Kansas City train station at one end and the Platte City train station at another.

Between the two stations are miniaturized miles of twists, turns, iron bridges, towns, trees, rivers and more - the culmination of thousands of hours of work, Baden said. Today, the track still operates, though some dust has settled along the edges in recent years.

Baden’s models are “o scale,” or one-quarter inch of model for every foot of real life. That means Baden’s cars are roughly a foot long, 6 inches tall and 2 or 3 inches wide.

- From planes to trains

For Baden, the decision to pursue model railroading was a natural offshoot of his military duty. During World War II, he worked as an aircraft mechanic for the 49th Fighter Group of the Army Air Corps.

Early in his deployment, Baden was part of a unit assigned to build Curtiss P-40 Warhawks, fighter planes that arrived disassembled in crates. All the model trains Baden acquired came disassembled also.

After his discharge in October 1945, Baden started doing research. He knew nothing about model railroading at the time but had played with toy trains as a child.

In 1946, he decided to try to open a hobby shop, but life had other plans. The following year, he got married to JoAnn Ellis, who died in June after 66 years of marriage. The first of his two sons was born in 1949.

To support his new family, Baden took a job with the Missouri Pacific Railroad as a signal man, keeping the line’s traffic lights in operation and sometimes helping to install lights along new stretches of track.

He moved across the county with different railroads, including the Santa Fe line, and landed in Casper while working for Platte Pipeline in November 1959.

Ever since, Baden and his tracks have been one of Casper’s quiet fixtures, a hidden trove of classic models and antiques. Some of his trains and tracks can be viewed at the Central Wyoming Model Railroad Association, where he donated some supplies. He helped to establish the club, which is at 1356 N. Center St., in 1993.

Baden, the oldest member of the organization, hangs out at the club every Tuesday morning when the weather is nice.

He also recently loaned his expertise - and a number of antique models, including one from 1929 - to the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center for a model train display.

Baden is also the first Wyomingite to receive “master model railroader” status from the National Model Railroad Association.

That title is earned by people who complete a number of tasks, including building a self-propelled model from scratch, constructing a layout that is at least 60 square feet and wiring the layout. There are only about 500 people in the world considered master model railroaders by the organization.

Along with that national distinction, Baden has one of the association’s few lifetime memberships. He bought his way into the club for a one-time fee decades ago.

At some point, the group discontinued lifetime memberships, though Baden has certainly gotten his money’s worth on his.

___

Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, https://www.trib.com


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