Perspectives Online

Boutwells Landing Railroad Club creates Stillwater model

Story and photos by Alecia Lebens, Reporter, Stillwater Gazette

Originally published on January 26, 2017

A Century College student observes the Boutwells Railroad Jan. 12.

A Century College student observes the Boutwells Railroad Jan. 12.

A small basement room at Boutwells Landing is a time machine.

Boxes of Lionel train sets that were once ripped open on Christmas morning in the 1940s and 1950s once again hum and chug along their tracks. Whistles blow as a model Burlington Northern passes through a miniature Stillwater and around a snow-covered Historic Washington County Courthouse. Trains speed through mountain tunnels and untouched Arizona deserts, passing ball fields and the great St. Paul Union Depot on their way back to Stillwater.

When asked why the Boutwells Railroad Club spends so much time and care creating a return to the Stillwater of their youths, resident Jess Escue said simply, “Who doesn’t like playing with trains?”

About five years ago, the Boutwells Railroad Club was started with a few members and personal train sets. An original tabletop setup was constructed in the community’s common area — easy for other residents to see but plagued by electrical issues and lack of space to expand. A furniture storage room was cleaned out in the basement of Boutwells by staff members, and the railroad club had a permanent place to grow the model setup to include buildings, landscapes and displays for antique trains that were no longer operational.

A model of downtown Stillwater’s Commander Grain Elevator.

A model of downtown Stillwater’s Commander Grain Elevator.

After retiring from a career at Andersen Windows in Bayport, Bill Choinere was interested in volunteering. In 2011, Choiniere’s mother read an article in the Gazette about the newly formed train club and its desire to expand.

“I thought that it might be a good idea to volunteer and help them out with all of the electrical work,” Choiniere said.

Choiniere worked with the train club to wire switches to keep the trains from crashing on the rails and to light up the two-level display. With the air of a clubhouse, the walls of the room feature train-related treasures and railroad memorabilia. Keeping a watchful eye is a memorial to Boutwells Railroad founder Bill Fletcher, who died in October 2016.

The display includes model buildings that have been donated from collections and displays. The model of the historic courthouse comes from the train room of the late Bob Thompson of Thompson Hardware in Stillwater.

“When Bob died, his wife and daughter donated his models to us,” said club member John Lawton. “We tried to save as much as we could and incorporate it into our setup.”

The club honors Thompson with a memorial near the train set. Models from John Hearding’s collection are also included, and he is remembered by his fellow model train enthusiasts, as well.

Pictured are Boutwells Landing Railroad Club members, from left, John Lawton, Rollie Rubertus, Jess Escue and Bill Choiniere wearing Boutwells Railroad shirts.

Pictured are Boutwells Landing Railroad Club members, from left, John Lawton, Rollie Rubertus, Jess Escue and Bill Choiniere wearing Boutwells Railroad shirts.

Most of the models come from donations or are handcrafted from available materials. A sliver of foam becomes a sheet of icicles falling off a roof; a piece of netting becomes the chain-link fence around the baseball diamond.

“Any financial donations we receive go to buying new track and electrical switches,” Choiniere said.

The club keeps the train room open for visitors on Thursdays and Sundays. On Jan 12, a group of Century College health students who are learning at Boutwells came for a scavenger hunt.

“Our next project is to finish a section that looks like Bayport, with an Andersen Windows factory loading and unloading onto the train,” Choinere said.

Click here to read the story as originally published in the Stillwater Gazette. Reprinted with permission.

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