The Southwest Louisiana O Gauge Model Railroad Club works tirelessly each year to increase the "wow" factor for their annual Christmastime running of the trains at the Brimstone Museum in Sulphur. This year, their fifth, is no exception, as the club has added a special "Sulphur-scape" to their model.
During the opening night of Sulphur's traditional Christmas Under the Oaks extravaganza; Andy Buckley, the club's model builder extraordinaire, stood proudly with Sulphur Mayor Mike Danahay as Danahay flicked the switch activating all seven train lines at once.
"This is a great plus for our community," Danahay said. "People thoroughly enjoy coming to the Brimstone Museum to see the Model Railroad Club's trains each year, and they bring their kids here, some of them from miles away. It's a love for these guys to do what they do each year and the city of Sulphur is grateful to them. It's really a win-win situation."
Folks who have lived in the area long enough will take a stroll down memory lane as they view this year's train display. Buckley and the other 23 members of the club spent the last half of 2019 building a 1950's version of Sulphur's most historic buildings, at 1⁄48 to scale.
Visitors will be treated to meticulously crafted miniature versions of Murl Vincent Buick, the Krause-Managan Lumber Company, Calcasieu-Marine National Bank, the Henning Methodist Church (circa 1884), Eties Clothing Store, Strand Movie Theater, Sulphur Co-Operative Rice Dryer, the 1920s water tower, and the Johnson-Robinson's Funeral Home; all laid out as they were in the '50s — complete with the Union Sulphur Company and sulfur mines glowing yellow in the background.
The models are each intricately designed, and not only are there the buildings themselves, but the people are present — shopping, banking and heading in to the Strand to catch a movie with the marquee advertising "Gone With The Wind."
Without a doubt, as Danahay said, there was a good deal of labor involved in creating this golden era of the city; but it is from love for the trains and models that comes the detail so exquisite.
The Sulphur-scape isn't the only new addition visitors to the Brimstone will see upon entering the train display. The O Gauge Model Railroad Club also added a second level to the design, complete with Thomas the Train and the Polar Express. Though these two trains run for the holiday season only, the magic of model trains is carried on with the variety of Southern Pacific, Missouri Pacific, Kansas City Southern, and Union Pacific steam and diesel locomotives. Visitors will marvel as the Southern Pacific Sunset Limited and KCS Flying Crow passenger trains pass them by, along with a Barnum and Bailey Circus train and the Santa Fe Super Chief passenger train. The upper deck also boasts track space for the Union Pacific "Big Boy" steam locomotive — the world's largest.
"We made a deal with Brimstone executive director Thom Trahan that we would add three new buildings each year," Buckley said. "But this year we added seven."
Buckley, along with members Tommy Stutes, Mike Stine, Chad Treadwell and Wesley White were all on hand for Danahay's turning of the switch to begin the Christmas operating season for their trains; but the group felt dearly the absence of member Barry McCall, who passed away earlier this year. In honor of their friend and fellow railroad enthusiast, there is also the addition of a special new village on the landscape. Since McCall, who worked for many years as an electrician for Firestone while also operating his radio station KELB-FM along with wife Karen — the group built replicas of those buildings as well, adding in a very special McCall Electric Company — the business that their friend planned to start upon his retirement from Firestone.
Perhaps most sentimental of all, however, are the two apartment buildings the McCall Village has to offer are the Ashli and Kim Apartments, named in honor of his two daughters. The club got their start displaying their model trains in the windows of the Muller building on Ryan Street in Lake Charles, where Trahan had an opportunity to see their work and invite them to display at the Brimstone Museum.
The holiday train display can be seen every Saturday through December at The Brimstone Museum, 900 East Huntington St., from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. For folks who are unable to visit this month, the club proudly displays their models year long on the first and third Saturdays of each month. For those who enjoy watching the magic of the locomotives, but want to actually be a part of the action, the Southwest Louisiana O Gauge Model Railroad Club is always accepting new members; the club meets on the third Saturday of every month and membership is $10 per month.