Foley’s Depot Museum model train exhibit takes visitors back in time
Although it is only open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (during the summer) from 10 a.m. ‘til 2 p.m., Foley’s model train exhibit is easily the most popular attraction in town.
For ten years, members of the Caboose Club, a group made up primarily of retirees who say model trains are their hobby, have laid track, repaired engines, operated trains, built new structures, painted scenery, greeted visitors, organized materials and themselves, and kept the doors open–and have never charged an admission fee.
For those who have not gone into the building that sits just behind Foley’s Historic Depot Museum on Hwy. 98, inside sits a unique exhibit that takes you back in time.
Odd clicking sounds made by multiple O-gauge trains moving around a 60×24-foot layout greet visitors as they come into the door.
Then, as eyes adjust from the light outside, a miniature world filled with exquisitely detailed buildings comes into view. Everywhere, there are scenes to be explored. All are connected by what seems like miles of tracks, along which multiple O-gauge trains are constantly moving.
The exhibit delights kids of all ages. A current club member describes it this way: “You see the little kids come in and climb up on the rail. Their eyes light up and it’s like Christmas.” Or you hear adults say, “Wow, I had no idea!’”
A short history of the exhibit explains that a group of retirees who enjoyed trains had met informally for several years. In 2005, former city councilman Charlie Ebert, Jr., received a call from an attorney for Alan Goldman, who wished to find a home for a large O-gauge train layout. He wished to donate it to a city that would display it for the general public.
Ebert led a group who went to see the train, then approached the Foley City Council to accept the donation as a foundation for a large exhibit adjacent to Foley’s historic train depot.
The council accepted their proposal, and over the next two years a 3,200-square-foot, $332,000 building was completed, and the exhibit was put into place. Later, Caboose Club members estimated it took over 6,000 man hours to create the exhibit.
Today, in addition to the train exhibit, Caboose Club members operate a small event train and provide free train rides for small children and their parents around Heritage Park. It runs on Saturdays year-round, plus Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer.
Over the years, the group has held fairly steady at about 30 members, with a core of a dozen or so who keep things going. Because they wouldn’t want to leave anyone out, they requested that their names not be listed. But if you stop in between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, you will meet folks with names like Charlie, Bob, Bill, Al, Paul, Stan, Mike, Ron, Rich, Emit, Paul, Tom, John, Dave, Alton, Chuck and Joe.
Congratulations to these men and many others for the countless hours they have donated to create an exhibit enjoyed by visitors from literally all over the world.
“It is hard to imagine we are observing our tenth anniversary. Having been here to witness the growth and development of the museum, it has been rewarding to see this humble facility become one of Foley’s top tourist attractions,’’ said Bonnie Donaldson, director, Foley Depot Museum.
“I believe one of the keys to our success is the dedication of our volunteers that offer their services. We have had visitors from almost every state in the union, not to mention many from 24 different countries.”