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There's something about Eldorado that appeals to model-train buffs. For some, the idea of a train passing nearby was enough to make the decision to move to Eldorado. For others, affordable houses -- at least those affordable houses of a few years ago -- drew them to the area.

Whatever the motivation, a significant portion of the membership of the area's model-train club has settled in Eldorado.

"There are a number of us in Eldorado who have model railroads," said retired Capital High School counselor Bob Mizerak.

The size of that number is anybody's guess. Not all train modelers join the club. The Santa Fe branch of the Albuquerque model-train club has members from Pecos to La Cienega, but the largest concentration of members is in Eldorado.

"The joke in the club is that we are the tail that wags the dog. It's a Santa Fe club, but there's an awful lot of Eldoradans," club member Bill Dunning said.

Mizerak lives more than a mile from where the Santa Fe Southern Railway tracks cross Avenida Vista Grande. As a child in the 1940s, he lived about 50 feet from the New York Central Railroad in Little Falls, N.Y. Back then, he often visited his uncle's basement, where he was first exposed to the fantasy world of model trains and airplanes. Since the age of 15, Mizerak has collected train models of some sort

"Wherever I lived I've always done modeling of some kind," he said.

His current railroad takes up about two-thirds of his garage. He would have taken the entire space, but his wife insisted that he share.

Mizerak models mostly trains from the era in which he grew up -- the 1940s and 1950s.

"Most people who are involved with model railroading probably model the era they grew up with or something that's been part of their environment," Mizerak said.

His setup includes soil and rocks from across New Mexico. He enjoys telling visitors the stories of the various materials that comprise the rainbow of colors in his setup.

For Dunning, the railroad tracks immediately behind his house were definitely part of Eldorado's appeal. He has a room full of models but is still working on his track setup.

It's a long-term project. His trains include some early steam engines that wouldn't suit a track setup depicting modern architecture.

"I imagine it will be loosely the middle of the 20th century, although I have some things other than that I enjoy fooling with -- such as some of the early 19th century," Dunning said.

The appeal of model trains is as diverse as the people who collect them, Dunning said. Some enjoy the craft. It's a three-dimensional sort of art that can require carpentry, painting and electrical skills. The art can evoke requirements for historical realism, which can inspire both nostalgia and research. Others enjoy running trains, complete with virtual schedules to maintain.

Club member Bernie Brock, 79, has modeled trains for 65 years. He started a few years after getting his first train set for Christmas when he was 8.

"Then I saw the wonders of O-scale operation," Brock said.

O-scale is the big size. There are larger operations to be found in the modeling world -- as large as 1/12 actual size. O-scale is 1/48 of true size. A mile of real track is 110 feet long in O-scale.

At the age of 14, Brock started his O-scale collection by building a wooden refrigerator car used for express delivery on Great Northern Railroad passenger trains. Now he has 125 freight cars at his Verano Loop home, usually including his now-antique first model. For now, the old wooden car is on loan to his son, who is measuring it in anticipation of a future project. His son, a career railroad worker, has followed his father down the same track.

Club members consistently point to custom-home builder Jim Garton as the grand master of railroad setups in Eldorado. Along two walls in the basement of Garton's Dos Griegos home, a chest-high table is laden with tracks, buildings, cars, pedestrians and landscape. Trains run from a mine building on one end of the room through four towns, over bridges, through tunnels and past a round-table switching house to a model coal-fired power plant.

Part of Garton's track setup can be detached. A few times a year, he moves portions of his setup to the county fairgrounds in Santa Fe. There, modelers from around the area join modular-track setups to create a massive display.

For Garton, the setup recalls a time when trains had class.

"I rode trains all over the country as a teenager," he said. "I covered the whole country and Canada several times. In the days before Amtrak, each railroad had their own passenger trains with their own stamp."

In Garton's basement, and in the imaginations of men and the few women who are members of the Santa Fe chapter of the Albuquerque Society of HO Module Engineers, those days live on.
 
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