Look! Under the railroad tracks, there's a model railroad club in Milwaukee
Today, on Bubbler Talk, we're clearing up a mystery for local listener Monique Balistreri, who says she was out socializing on E. National Ave., and came upon an odd-looking building underneath elevated train tracks.
"And I randomly looked through the windows one night and was incredibly surprised by just this miniature town and train track," Balistreri tells WUWM.
Balistreri eventually discovered she had come upon the location of the Model Railroad Club of Milwaukee. The site was part of the recent Doors Open Milwaukee.
Club members later invited WUWM back during a recent meeting night for an extended stop, look, and listen.
Model trains roll through at least three rooms. Past tiny towns, miniature buildings, trees, rocks, bridges, billboards, and many other created bits of scenery.
At the controls, sitting in an area above the tracks is a club member we've agreed to call The Operator. He's a shy, but pleasant man. We ask about the electrical devices his left and right hands are operating.
The conversation went like this:
"So what's in your left hand?
"Oh, it's a rheostat."
"Yes, it takes 18 volts direct current and meters it down to whatever speed you want."
"And what is your right hand controlling?"
"The block power. Right now, we're in block 11 and we're going to go into block 12."
"The portion of the track? "
"Yes, the single track is about eight scale miles broken into 19 different blocks.''
The Operator explains the divisions mean you don't need electricity going to all of the track at the same time.
The Model Railroad Club is more than just a test of design and circuits of course. For 17-year member David Filipiak it's a way to reconnect with great memories of his father, who was a tool and die maker.
"My first train was very cheaply put together. It was an accumulation of, I think we could call it, donations from the garbage can. But to me, it was precious. We'd get it home, clean it up. Low and behold, people who knew my dad from work would say, 'Hey, I got a bag of track.' OK, it was all rusty, but we cleaned it up and it was working. Low and behold we found an engine and my dad got it all clean and we needed a transformer. One of the electricians found something at work that was working," Filipiak remembers.
Filipiak also became a tool and die maker. He says in more recent times , he came to the Model Railroad Club with his son and got him involved in making model railroad kits.
Bill Roepke grew up playing near, to his grandmother's dismay, the railroad tracks in the Menomonee Valley. Some of his ancestors worked for the Milwaukee Road. Roepke says as now an almost 50-year club member, he really enjoys when youth groups come in to see the model trains.
"In this day and age we're trying to push there's more to life than a video game, or your telephone. And that if you find something you're interested in, it opens up a wonderful world for you as a child. To read and to build models, and to meet people who like the same thing," Roepke tells WUWM.
Our Bubbler Talk questioner, Monique, also wondered about the club's building. It's a Milwaukee Road World War I-era passenger station that the club has been using for about 87 years.
And yes, trains pass overhead. You can hear the rumble as they do.
Club Secretary George Edward says the overhead trains are from the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Model Railroad Club pays rent to the Canada-based firm.
Edward says the roughly dozen members would welcome newcomers, and have few requirements.
"Just a pulse, interest," he says, laughing. "No, the thing is, we have people who have had no real knowledge of working with model trains, maybe a little bit. Now hopefully, people have a skill we can use, too. If your skill is just sweeping the floor, that's fine. We can use that," Edward says.
For those curious about the Model Railroad of Milwaukee, they have an open house the last Sunday of each month. Meaning this month, on Oct. 29, starting at 1:30 pm.