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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Massive model railroad finds new home in Storm Lake Santa's Castle

Tuesday, April 9, 2002

New tracks are being laid at Santa's Castle.

Though not as momentous, it's almost as exciting as the driving of the gold spike connecting both sides of the continent by rail.

The Christmas landmark will be the new home for Robert Anderson's sprawling O-gauge model railroad set.

It rings the basement of his former home on Iowa Street with twists and turns, realistic down to its working roundhouse and authentic trestles. There's even a 10-foot section of track tunneled through a wall of solid concrete block.

"When I saw this I thought, 'Oh, this is it,'" said Charles Slagle, who has been a model railroader for 60 years. Slagle and Burt Bonebrake, another railroad enthusiast, will now lead the effort to bring Anderson's railroad to life in Santa's Castle.

In a year that has saw a resurgence of interest in Santa's Castle and a local effort to rejuvenate it, Anderson's railroad will be another jewel in the crown and another reason for families across northwest Iowa to experience the Christmas magic.

Lead volunteers in the Castle's restoration, Gwen Bergendoff and Linda Kay, are excited about the possibilities. They called the model "fantastic" as they viewed it last Friday.

Anderson's brother, Jack, is happy to see the display find a new home.

"If nothing happened, we'd have to dismantle it and haul it away," he said.

The model has been part of family tradition.

"This will be a fine addition to Santa's Castle," Jack said. "It will give all families a chance to see this. Our brothers, kids and grand kids grew up with it. It will be nice for others to see it run, and I'm glad somebody's interested in the railroad."

Robert Anderson, who is also known for the 45-foot long schooner he was building, started his model railroad collection in the Iowa Street basement almost 50 years ago.

Before moving to Methodist Manor, he would spend numerous hours detailing the model.

"He could figure out anything anyway, " Jack said.

The two model railroad gurus who will help carry on Anderson's legacy are amazed at the amount of detail he put into the display.

The most striking feature, Bonebrake says, are two overlapping trestle bridges. Both curve at different angles and fit together perfectly. And it's sturdy, not even shaking under a firm grip.

"Something like this would take me hundreds of hours," he said. "But you can see the detail. The nails holding the trestles together stick out a little bit, just like you would see on a real bridge."

Anderson's love of creation is evident throughout the model set. A roundhouse, a loading platform and turnaround, is painstakingly and vividly detailed out of masonite. Anderson went through and carved lines to resemble mortar and bricks, and then painted it. That structure will be the center piece of the Castle's display, Slagle said.

And for model railroad enthusiasts, there will be plenty of collector's items to view. Slagle pointed out an old Lionel milk car that has a spring system inside that will push miniature milk bottles out of the side doors.

Bonebrake first saw the train set in January.

"Initially I was very impressed. You automatically go into a dream mood, picturing the buildings set up and what it would look like back online.

"The detail in the trestles and track work overall has the potential to really make it an outstanding display," he added. "There's a whole lot of work in involved, but when you enjoy doing something like us, don't consider it work."

The model train set is O-gauge, slightly larger than HO-gauges. The volunteers are seeking people to donate old three-rail train cars that may just be sitting in a box in the attic. They hope to recognize those who contribute as part of the display.

Bonebrake and Slagle planned to begin dismantling the model yesterday to prepare it for the trip to Santa's Castle. Slagle said they have already spent close to four days examining the display and making notes to ensure a smooth transition.

"We still haven't figured out how (Robert Anderson) got the track through the wall, though," Slagle joked.

To start with, the two will just reassemble the model that is in the east half of the basement. Another section in the west half will be added in subsequent years.

"We'll have this working and ready for next Christmas and each year after that it will become a little more complete," Slagle said.

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