Walking into Paquin Tower on Saturday was like walking into a train station — just smaller.
Bells and whistles sounded all around, as a slight aroma of steam permeated through the air. There were “big” tracks for “big” trains, “small” tracks for “small” trains. Children sat on their parents’ shoulders asking questions, and they were wide-eyed at a sight many of them had never seen before. Adults were there, too, remembering days gone by.
This was the 30th annual Railroad Show, organized by the Mid-Missouri Railfans — a group of train enthusiasts — and the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department.
Frederick List, a member of the Railfans who has attended shows for about 25 years, said this is the only outlet of its kind in the area that embraces both train modelers and fans.
“We welcome all people who are interested,” List said at the show, “though this is a bad day for people to get out.”
Jim Besleme, president of the Railfans and one of the show’s main organizers, said Saturday’s show had a low attendance because of the recent snowfall — there were about 75 attendees — but added that it is usually a big event that draws somewhere between 400 and 600 people.
Over the past 30 years, Besleme said, the show has evolved to accommodate the changes in modern technology.
“We now have a lot more sound, animation and just more sophisticated train models at the show,” Besleme said.
At Saturday’s show, there were train tracks of all ages, some new and one from as far back as 1953. For children, there was a big plastic train to ride and a table selling temporary tattoos. A booth was also set up showing a video about orphan trains, which carried orphaned children to new homes from the 1850s through the early 20th century.
John Shufflebean has been a member of the Railfans since 1973, and he has attended the annual show since its inception. A train aficionado, Shufflebean said he owns about 130 hours of railroad movies and loves looking at models and memorabilia.
“We used to have a section of the show where Amtrak provided paper hats for the kids,” Shufflebean said. “But people have died, and a lot of the trains are no longer in existence.”
Despite the decline in train popularity, Besleme said interest will never completely fade. He said that when people are young, they are in love with trains. While that’s followed by a love for significant others and work, children will continue to be fascinated with one of America’s first modes of transcontinental travel.
“Young ones will always be interested in trains,” he said.