For many of us, trains are a seasonal interest, visited at the Eiteljorg or weaved around the presents underneath piney Christmas trees. For John Dick III, model trains, tracks and towns fill his loft, his heart and much of his time all year long.
John is a self-professed “Model Train Guy” living in Fishers. He is husband to Niki and father to Jake (8) and Evie (4). He grew up around Anderson and majored in music/piano at Butler University. After graduation, he co-founded Premier Music Studios where he is currently co-owner and piano teacher. He enjoys taking his family camping, but his most impressive hobby is the study and creation of model trains.
It’s a family affair. John’s interest…okay, let’s call it what it really is…“obsession” with trains began when he was a small boy sitting on his father’s lap while he built model trains. “My dad loved to build model trains. Still does,“ says John.
His dad, John Dick Jr., found himself interested in trains in the late 1940s when the Ringling Brothers Train would pass through Anderson. “There were stock cars for elephants and horses, wagons for the smaller animals such as monkeys and coaches for the employees,” explains John III.
In addition, his grandpa, John Dick Sr., found trains so intriguing that he would ride the Anderson to South Bend line, just for fun. You might say the electrical track current runs through their blood because even John III’s son, Jake, has his own handmade continuous train track and village model table. Even little Evie finds them interesting.
While his dad taught John III how to solder wire to the track and build, paint and decal structures and cars from kits, John’s real passion lies in the scenery and weathering of the structures, tracks and roads. “Clean and new is boring to me. I like to weather everything, bury the lines, stack wood in a truck. That’s the character in it,” he says.
The cost of the hobby varies greatly from a few dollars for a basic kit to several hundred dollars for top-end locomotives. “Hobbytown knows me by now,” John giggles. Occasionally John sells old trains he no longer uses or writes for hobby publications, such as Milwaukee Road Historical Association and Model Railroad Hobbyist for what he calls “hobby money.”
John’s train track models the 1960s era railway from the Bedford quarries to Oolitic, displaying historically accurate under-maintained rails in dirt, stacked limestone ready for loading, big jib cranes, a mill, farmhouse and town. Of course, some artistic flexibility was taken when John personalized the Oolitic town to his family.
If you look very closely, you will notice a pancake house (the kid’s favorite restaurant), Dick’s Saloon and Niki’s Cake Shop (named after his wife). John painstakingly detailed the woods with painted and textured Styrofoam hills, trees he made out of branches and scenery foam, teeny tiny deer and limestone rocks cast out of plaster molds and hand painted. There are tiny people in the town, depot and on the farmhouse’s porch, as well as itsy bitsy gravel in the tracks.
Just as his model train railway is finely detailed, so is John’s knowledge of train history. His infinite knowledge of the Milwaukee Railroad is humbling to train mortals. He lights up with enthusiasm when pulling out one of his many train books to show historical pictures of a train, track or depot from a time long ago. You can’t help but find yourself wrapped up in the excitement.
John was more than happy to run the trains for me by attaching his Staging Cassette: a wooden, walled bridge-like box that opened on one of the long ends with a train inside sitting on a track. He clamped the opening onto the end of the model track, typed the train number into his Digital Command Control remote and became a train engineer for a while.
At the young age of 38, John says, “I’m in the ‘gap generation’ of model train enthusiasts. Not many people my age are into this. It takes time and patience, and that’s what is treasurable about it. There is no instant gratification.” What does the future hold for John? “Well I’d like to do a branch to Seymour next.” I’m sure it will be detailed and spectacular.
By: Marcy Vigren