ROSSVILLE — Dewain Moore grew up near railroad tracks on Illinois Route 49, and those passing trains captured his imagination.
“You don’t have to work on the railroad to be a fanatic,” said Moore, who retired from farming after 47 years.
Moore has channeled his passion for trains into an elaborate hobby, one that has attracted other enthusiasts to his home in rural Rossville for years. His vast collection is housed in a two-floor building, complete with an elevator, behind his home.
He and his wife, Marilyn, have decided to have an open house for the holidays so people can enjoy the collection. The train building will be open every Saturday and Sunday through December, starting Nov. 24. There is no admission, but people are asked to bring an item for a food pantry.
People also are welcome to make an appointment to see the collection.
The couple enjoys showing off the G-scale (1/24th) layouts, with all of their accompanying scenery and miniatures. Besides the tracks and the layouts, the couple has numerous train-related and Western items decorating the walls, on shelves and in glass cases.
A rotating Christmas tree in one corner is decorated with little train cars, striped workman gloves, and some items made by Marilyn. “I like making little things and telling a story,” she said.
On the second floor, some of the scenes feature her handiwork. A wheat field, for example, was made from broom bristles, and a cornfield was made from plastic grass and straws.
Dewain joked that he does the mechanics and Marilyn “does the piddling.”
Dewain has been collecting railroad items for 15-20 years, displaying them in his home. However, Marilyn said, “One day, I decided I wanted it out of the dining room.”
The Moores built the 24-by-36-foot garage in 2002 to display the collection, and their son, Kevin, built the elevator that takes visitors (two at a time) to the second floor and back.
There are eight train sets running around the layouts.
The chugging trains appeal to all ages — from children who are enchanted with the moving “toys” to adults who fondly remember the role that trains played in their lives.
Dr. John Mason of Danville, a frequent visitor, said, “Fascination with trains is a strong tie between young and old, and I couldn’t wait for my boys and my grandchildren to see it. I could then tell them about seeing passenger trains stop in Rossville, watching the station manager V.C. Railsback click Morse Code and stack mail on trains or my trip to California to visit grandparents by train in 1934.
“It is a special place that helps bring memories and re-live history.”
Mason first heard about the collection while taking friends, David and Margot Bulmer of Olney, England, on a tour of farming around Rossville. While Mason and the visitors were watching Kevin Moore farm, Dwain came up and mentioned his collection. The Bulmers have an interest in trains, and went to see it.
The guests were awe-struck by the collection. “We were blown away with all the artifacts downstairs and then he (Dewain) led us upstairs and soon trains were running,” Mason said. “The painstaking attention to detail with crops growing, smokestacks, waterfall, mountains, and even a gunfight was something.”
Attention to detail
The Moores are always upgrading the layouts, too.
This past summer, they took a trip to Alaska and the Yukon, and enjoyed the scenery so much that they built a section reflecting that beauty. That section — on the ground floor — has miniature black bears and moose, Mounted Police, a tunnel, fir trees, a mountain, a sign for the North Pole, and an extra track on the bottom (there already was a track on top).
During their nine-day trip, the Moores took a three-day cruise, and then a bus tour into Canada and Anchorage; at Fairbanks, they rode the glass-domed McKinley Express. They also went to North Pole, Alaska.
The couple is fascinated with steam engines, and has ridden trains in Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado.
The ground floor also features a non-working stove from a railroad house, numerous lanterns and oil cans, railroad signs, a clock that sounds like a train horn on the hour, hats, drawings, photos, articles, books and a refurbished luggage carrier. In addition, there are items reflecting Dewain’s interest in the West, including a John Wayne poster.
After taking the elevator to the second floor, a visitor doesn’t know which way to look. Numerous scenes with little people are playing out, and each scene tells a story.
The trains chug past red rocks, adobe buildings and teepees in the West; a cemetery where a worker is digging a grave, anticipating the end of a gunfight going on in a nearby Old West town; a carousel with music and a circus tent; a stream with running water; a couple of farm scenes with corn and hay fields; a ball park with children playing.
Marilyn made the streaked-blue stained glass at the bottom of the stream, which gives it a realistic look. She also put up wallpaper with trees and hills for the background scenery.
In another building, the couple has a 32-foot trailer called the M&M Express, which they take to parades and different events in the area. The trailer has huge windows so people can see the train layouts and miniatures inside; a sound system amplifies the noise from the inside to the outside.
The Moores bought the outfit from a man who had built the trailer and layout, and then they refurbished it with a new ceiling and siding. They’ve taken the trailer to Christmas parades.
The Moores said they find items for their layouts at places such as Zionsville, Ind., the Internet and shows, and people also donate items.
“I keep saying, ‘we’re done,’” Marilyn said with a laugh.
But, Dewain added, “It’s a never-ending hobby.”
The Moores also have a collection of old tractors that they’ve restored.
Besides Kevin (who does the farming), the couple has a daughter, Melinda Willard of the Armstrong area, and six grandchildren.
Go to Rossville and turn west (left, if you’re coming from Danville) at the stop light. Continue for 5-6 miles to County Road 880. Turn north (right). The Moores live in the second house on the left, with a railroad crossing sign at the driveway. Their address is 36078 North 880 East Road, Rossville.
Dewain and Marilyn Moore will have an open house from 1-4 p.m. every weekend through December, starting this Saturday and Nov. 25, so people can see their collection of railroad items and tracks.
The collection also is open by appointment, and is accessible to the handicapped. Call 497-5024 for an appointment or for special arrangements.
Admission is free, but people are asked to bring canned items for a food pantry during the holidays.