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Could your kid love toy trains?

November 21, 2017 GMT

GRAND MEADOW — Two trains collided Saturday afternoon in Grand Meadow, prompting a frenzy of activity and a bevy of gawkers.

Thankfully, they were just model trains, and the commotion prompted squeals of delight during the annual open house hosted by the Railrunners Model Railroad Club.

Gary Austin, a club member who used to work at Mayo Clinic, was among those who calmly walked to the scene and joked with about a dozen people who strained to get a glimpse of the pint-sized derailment at the Grand Meadow Business Center.

Turns out, Austin’s train had been running too slow and been rear-ended by a faster engine that slowly had caught up after a couple hours of entertaining the public.

“No biggie,” Austin said, smiling after he removed two damaged rail cars and restarted his train. “These cars have all been involved in accidents before.”

The moment provided some levity at the club’s annual open house, which attracted hundreds to rural Mower County. More than 50 people showed up within the first two hours on Saturday, including LeRoy’s Barry Reburn and his 10-year-old grandson, Max.

Reburn had never attended the club’s event during its 13-year history but used the chilly Saturday afternoon to explore a new hobby.

“He’s never seen anything like this, so I’m going to educate him,” Barry said.

Max openly gawked at the trains, weaving between bodies and straining to see the elevated exhibit throughout the room. He was among those who rushed to examine the crash.

“It’s cool,” Max said.

The club meets every Wednesday and boasts 11 members, most of whom are retired and living in Rochester or Austin. The annual open house serves multiple functions — showing off their meticulous work, attracting new members and gathering to enjoy their niche hobby.

The club was formed in 2004 but almost had to shut down a few years ago after dipping to just seven members. Recent additions, such as Austin’s George Brophy, have renewed hope for the club moving forward.

Brophy said it’s important that the region offer unique exhibits such as the model train setup, which is claimed to be the largest in Southeast Minnesota, particularly as the $6.5 billion Destination Medical Center project unfolds.

“What a reprieve this kind of thing is for people going through Mayo Clinic,” Brophy said.

Austin said he was heartened by the strong attendance and enthusiasm from youngsters such as Max. However, he knows many believe model railroads are a dying hobby. While the average age within the Railrunners Club even might support that feeling — the national average age of these hobbyists is about 60 — Austin remains hopeful.

“I can’t keep track of all the millennials or the Gen X’ers, but the train manufacturers keep cranking these things out, and people keep buying them,” Austin said.

“It’s fun to see people enjoy it here. They keep saying model railroading is a dying hobby, but hopefully these younger kids will come back in 20, 30, 40 years.”