It's been hard to tell who is having the most fun this weekend --- kids or the somewhat older guys who brought their model trains to run during the Lucas County Arts Council's three-day National Train Day observance at the C.B.&Q. Freight House. The event continues from noon to 4 p.m. today. Admission is free.
The big setup that is the center of attraction was brought down Thursday night from Indianola by members of the Warren County Modular Railroaders. It's their baby and ordinarily lives at the Warren County Historical Society museum on the county fairgrounds, west on Highway 92.
Moving the display is a monumental undertaking, but the railroaders do it occasionally in an effort both to show off their hobby and also to familiarize Iowans with their state's railroading history. One of the guys manning the display Saturday morning said it took about three hours after arriving in Chariton just to set up and get the first train running.
This is not an inexpensive hobby. The engines, many equipped with sound and some set up to puff smoke out their stacks, begin conservatively at $500.
There's also an interesting display of vintage model railroading equipment in the forepart of the Freight House, formerly the office.
The Freight House, which manages to look small when approached head-on, actually is huge --- stretching for a considerable distance parallel to the mainline Burlington Northern & Santa Fe (once Chicago Burlington & Quincy) tracks northwest of the square. It is the oldest railroad-related building still standing in Chariton, so one of the most appropriate places in the state for a display like this weekend's.
The Freight House had fallen upon very hard times some years ago, when the Arts Council, spurred on by the late Dorotha Fluke Many, took it on (no one else would). Counless volunteer hours and many thousands of dollars later, it was fully restored.
This was where all the freight that arrived in or left Chariton on C.B.&Q. lines stretching east, west, north and south was processed, stored and dispatched back in the day when you could travel anywhere you wanted to go in the continental United States from the old depot just to the northwest, long since demolished.
The freight office at the front is intact. A kitchen and restrooms have been installed along one side of the former warehouse up front and while the Arts Council often uses the building for its own events, it is more often rented out for meetings, parties, family reunions, wedding receptions and the like.
Although it's not evident here, since the focus Saturday was inside, the vast freight doors that march along both sides of the former warehouse have been glazed and when the old doors are raised quite a different effect results.
Like the Arts Council's other property, the Dual Gables House, the Freight House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The model railroaders meet from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays at the Warren County Historical Society. Inquiries may be addressed to John Averill, 14910 92nd Lane, Indianola 50125, or firstname.lastname@example.org.