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updated: 2/5/2017 6:58 AM

Lake County Model Railroad Club may have to move after 44 years

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  • Video: Train Club losing it's lease

  • Trent Blasco of Buffalo Grove and other members of the Lake County Model Railroad Club may be forced to leave the Wauconda basement they've called home for 44 years, leaving their future in doubt.

      Trent Blasco of Buffalo Grove and other members of the Lake County Model Railroad Club may be forced to leave the Wauconda basement they've called home for 44 years, leaving their future in doubt.
    Russell Lissau | Staff Photographer

  • Trent Blasco, right, of Buffalo Grove and Pat Smith of Wauconda drive their trains at the Lake County Model Railroad Club in Wauconda.

      Trent Blasco, right, of Buffalo Grove and Pat Smith of Wauconda drive their trains at the Lake County Model Railroad Club in Wauconda.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Kevin Kraszczyk, 16, of Island Lake works with his locomotive at the Lake County Model Railroad Club in Wauconda. "I got my first Thomas train set and went from Thomas to real trains and ever since then this has been my main hobby and it's been my life," he said.

      Kevin Kraszczyk, 16, of Island Lake works with his locomotive at the Lake County Model Railroad Club in Wauconda. "I got my first Thomas train set and went from Thomas to real trains and ever since then this has been my main hobby and it's been my life," he said.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Jim Schlader of McHenry works a remote control at the Lake County Model Railroad Club in Wauconda.

      Jim Schlader of McHenry works a remote control at the Lake County Model Railroad Club in Wauconda.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • A locomotive spits steam as it chugs down the tracks at the Lake County Model Railroad Club in Wauconda.

      A locomotive spits steam as it chugs down the tracks at the Lake County Model Railroad Club in Wauconda.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Rod Issacson of Wauconda adjusts his locomotive on the rails at the Lake County Model Railroad Club in Wauconda.

      Rod Issacson of Wauconda adjusts his locomotive on the rails at the Lake County Model Railroad Club in Wauconda.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Jim Schlader of McHenry adjusts his locomotive on the rails at the Lake County Model Railroad Club in Wauconda.

      Jim Schlader of McHenry adjusts his locomotive on the rails at the Lake County Model Railroad Club in Wauconda.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • After 44 years, the Lake County Model Railroad Club is losing the lease on its headquarters in downtown Wauconda. The group has to move by March 2018 or it may have to shut down.

      After 44 years, the Lake County Model Railroad Club is losing the lease on its headquarters in downtown Wauconda. The group has to move by March 2018 or it may have to shut down.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

For 44 years, the Lake County Model Railroad Club's trains have been chugging through layouts in a basement in downtown Wauconda.

Guided by hobbyists with hand-held controllers, the HO-scale models gently roll over bridges, through lovingly created landscapes and past tiny people waiting at tiny stations.

And they need a new home.

The building's owner may have a new tenant, so the group -- one of the oldest continuously operating model railroad clubs in the Chicago area -- is looking for other buildings.

But relocating isn't as simple as packing the miniature trains, tracks and buildings that fill the space at 107 S. Main St.

The layouts -- made of plaster, plastic and wood, and secured to plywood platforms -- can't be dismantled and reassembled elsewhere.

If the club moves, the sets will be destroyed. And the idea of rebuilding elsewhere seems overwhelmingly daunting to some club members.

"You get attached to something like this," said Norm Kocol, a club member from Johnsburg.

On top of that, relocating requires finding a landlord who will offer an affordable rent. And that won't be easy.

"We're in limbo," Kocol said.

Club history

Six Wauconda-area residents formed the club in 1972. The group has always met in the 1,800-square-foot basement beneath what is now the Honey Hill Coffee Co.

The space originally was offered rent-free.

"There wasn't even a lease," Kocol said. "There was an arrangement. And the guys went ahead and built this marvelous layout."

About 2,000 feet of track fills the room, winding through layouts that feature the names of real places including Wauconda, Palatine and Madison.

Today the club has 17 members. They open the space to the public from 7 to 9 p.m. every Friday.

Additionally, each spring and fall, the group holds open houses that draw hundreds of railroad fans.

"We're one of the few institutions left in Wauconda that has been here 40 years," said Frank Blacker, a club member from the Cary area. "You look around and businesses have come and gone."

Time to go?

The group's rent is $400 a month, which includes insurance and utilities. Its lease run through March 2018, with an option for one more year.

Landlord Dave Bunge, however, says the group may have to move out next year.

"I've got other people who have expressed interest (in the space)," he said.

Last month, Bunge sent the club an email saying they'd have to vacate by March, but that was an error, he said; now, he's noncommittal about whether the club can stay.

"We have 14 months before we get there," he said. "We'll see where it goes."

The club members don't like that uncertainty. They've asked a real estate agent to look for a new spot.

But even if they can find a landlord willing to take them who charges an affordable rent, the prospect of junking the existing displays is heartbreaking.

The plaster landscapes can't be sawed into portable pieces, and the tracks are glued down and can't be disassembled without damage.

"The layout was designed for the space that it's in," Kocol said. "There's no way to cut this thing apart, put it back together and expect it to run."

Some members may not want to spend money to build new layouts, a task that could be costly, Kocol said.

Others may not want to help with the building. Not everyone enjoys the construction aspects of the hobby.

"Some people just like to run trains," Kocol said.

Even though the future of the club is unclear, its weekly meetings continue, as will an open house set for March 18-19. The fall open house is uncertain.

Blacker called the group "pessimistically optimistic" about its future.

"We're trying to hold a good attitude," he said. "But it's a struggle."

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