Houston Model Train Show taking passengers on Saturday at Stafford Centre
By Michael Sudhalter
When it comes to details of his elaborate model train set, Meadows Place resident Steve Sandifer has pulled out all the stops.
Sandifer, 67, has spent the past decade working on a Santa Fe model train set that recreated three small Kansas towns, circa the early 1950s.
After his son moved out and started a family, Sandifer used the new spare room for the masterpiece of his lifelong interest in model trains.
“This is a hobby that involves manual dexterity — it’s partly art, with elements of electrical engineering, construction and woodworking,” Sandifer said. “I like to build stuff from scratch.”
He learned a great deal from his father, who was a mechanical engineer and a “do-it-yourselfer.”
Sandifer and many of his fellow model train enthusiasts will be coordinating the Houston Model Train Show on Saturday at the Stafford Centre. Sandifer is the show’s co-chairman.
Sandifer’s model is complex, but there wasn’t much guesswork. He’s actually met with residents and former railroad employees in the small Kansas towns of Climax, Eureka and Moline.
“These are real places, even though the railroad doesn’t run through there anymore,” Sandifer said.
His next project? To build a lower level 1950-era replica of Emporia, Kan. — a town where all of Santa Fe trains traveled through. He uses the early 1950s because that’s when Santa Fe stopped using steam engine trains.
A retired minister who has two sons and six grandchildren, Sandifer finds and re-creates everything from depots and churches to feed lots, schools and businesses — all in amazing detail.
Sandifer, a native of Shreveport, La., became interested in trains because his grandfather worked for the Kansas City Southern Railroad.
He used to come up with ideas for the layout surrounding the tracks when looking at exhibits at the Louisiana State Fairgrounds in his hometown.
“I had model train layouts when I was a little kid and took over the attic in junior high and high school,” said Sandifer, who’s lived in Meadows Place since the early 1990s.
When he began raising a family, model trains went on back burner, but he’s recently picked it up again.
“Model trains are more popular than they’ve ever been,” Sandifer said. “Baby boomers are retired, and they have time and money on their hands.”
Each of the trains in Sandifer’s set has a schedule and a route in which to travel.
Model train sets have evolved with technology.
They used to run electronically, but now they run digitally.
It’s not uncommon for Sandifer to invite friends over and have a three-hour operating session with the trains.
“Every locomotive has an electronic chip — it used to be Direct Current, and now it’s Digital Command Central,” Sandifer said.