Ruth & I continue to work our list of U.S. towns of 100,000 or more that have not been incorporated into larger cities and we have not been to. This was our main reason for going to Georgia in 2019, which was revelatory and fun. It’s also the reason why we traveled to San Angelo, TX and Greeley, CO in 2019. By the end of this year we will be down to nine unvisited towns with 100,000 people with 2 in Michigan and 2 in Connecticut still to see. We’ll visit some of them, I surmise, in 2020.
Greeley was quiet and hot when we were there on July 6. It’s probably under a layer of snow now. The Greeley Stampede, the big event of any year there, was underway and we wanted to attend but the rodeo events and Cowboy Games were over for the day, and all that was opened that evening was the carnival and a country music concert, so we decided to head for Greeley’s biggest tourist attraction, the Colorado Model Railroad Museum, which was our 3rd attraction that day. Warning: this museum closes at 4 pm every day even at the height of tourist season, and we arrived about ten minutes before closing time. Graciously, its Executive Director and Chief Engineer welcomed us, and Duane gave me an hour of his time with a personally conducted tour.
Duane A. Fields, the man who runs this entire operation, talks like the guy with the best job in the world. He showed me his computers and tried to make his complex job understandable but it was his end-of-the-day time so I asked him to tell me about his visitors, his plans for the future, and his favorite display. He explained that anyone can bring in his or her own train and run it. His dreams include more lighted buildings, more animation, and more displays that appeal to children, the future of this hobby’s success or failure. Then he took me to see his favorite re-creation, the town of Dairy, OR. On the way there, he demonstrated this museum’s collection of train signals, showed me its outside displays, and took me behind the scenes to see the utter complexity of this operation. He explained that his favorite scenes involved crisis situations devised by model railroad designers . You have to look for and find them, he explained as he pointed to a man in Dairy pushing a stalled car. This made seeing what would otherwise be just a huge train display a lot more fun. This model railroad museum has annual events. For example, January brings Literacy Day and features Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express. The main Greeley brochure that listed festivals and attractions said that the Colorado Model Railroad Museum is the largest display of this kind in the United States. I asked Duane if this is true, and he told me that the one in San Diego’s Balboa Park has become larger. I appreciated his honesty.
About this time Michelle, the museum’s Executive Director, brought me some information and reminded me that this museum’s mission goes beyond watching miniature trains circle about. It’s also to educate and provide historical background. Knowing this, I took another look around and saw enticing posters like the one below, an explanation of different railroad gauges, and I finally understood why Duane showed me those historic signals. Thanks to Michelle’s materials, I now know that this museum’s engines pull, on average, 45 to 50 cars but some haul 80 or more. I know that there are more than 150 powered trains running about at all times, that this layout took 5½ years to build and involved 27,000 volunteer hours, and that there are almost 30,000 trees in this nearly 6,000 square feet layout. Wow!