First off, don't ask Payson's Bill Felton why he likes to play with toy trains. Them's fightin' words to a serious model railroader, and Felton is as serious as the breed comes.
"You do not 'play' with trains," he explains flatly. "You 'run' or 'operate' them. And they aren't 'toys.' They're scaled-down replicas of real trains, as identical to the real thing in as many ways as is possible."
It's also ill-advised to ask Felton if he'll stage a spectacular, high-speed head-on collision using two of his engines. Serious model railroaders, you see, can't even begin to find the humor in such a suggestion.
"No, no. You don't do that," says the retired California schoolteacher as if admonishing a student for setting fire to his desk. "That might happen, but purely by accident. You don't want it to happen."
Felton, who turns 69 today (Tuesday, April 3), is a relative latecomer to this particular passion. Whereas most model railroaders have been collecting and operating their trains since childhood, Felton only got into the game eight years ago, after the death of his wife, Lee.
"I'd spent seven years taking care of her, because she was very ill," Felton says. "When she was gone, I decided to look for a hobby. A friend happened to be into model railroading ... and here I am. I love it to the point where, every summer, I go to the Nevada Northern Railroad in Ely, Nevada, and run the big ones. I'm a brakeman, fireman and student engineer. I'll be a full engineer by the end of this summer."
Of course, you don't need to know any of that to sense how much Felton loves model railroading. All you have to do is take a gander at his massive and meticulously detailed six-level, dual-track, HO-scale layout which twists and turns and rises and drops across nearly every inch of a building on his property that's about the size of a three-car garage.
This miniaturized wonderland is made up of eight different railroad layouts Felton purchased from retiring model railroaders. Including what he has added to those setups, Felton's layout now includes 1,385 miniature railroad cars, 280 engines, 500 buildings, more than 300 trees, 2,040 feet of actual track, plus countless tiny plastic hoboes, pedestrians, train passengers and railroad workers.
To repeat, Felton is a serious model railroader. And there are thousands of others just like him.
What is it about this hobby that has hooked not only their imaginations, but their pocketbooks?
"Model railroading captures, in a variety of scales, all the promise and excitement that come with train travel, all the dreams of exhilarating journeys to exotic places," Felton says. "It combines a love of miniatures with opportunities for unlimited creativity and personal expression."
Of course, when you have something to express, you need other people to express it to. That's why Felton is now campaigning to expand the model railroading club he's organized with a few other Rim country train hobbyists.
"Right now there's five of us who have railroads or who are building railroads, and once a week we go to a different group member's house to work on their layout for a couple of hours, then operate their trains for a couple of hours," he says.
"We only have two rules. One is, if you're going to run (the trains), you work. The second is, treat the trains and layout like it's your own. Outside of those things, we don't care about anything else.
"Anyone who's interested in joining, or in becoming a model railroader, can call me at 472-9865. We'll even take kids."