GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) – When you walk in the doors of the Colorado Model Railroad Museum at the Greeley Freight Station you won’t believe your eyes.
Laid out over 5,500 square feet of floor space is one of the world’s largest HO scale model railroads. Its “Oregon, California and Eastern Railway Company” model railroad is partially modeled after a real railroad that bore the same name.
“We used that premise initially and took a lot of poetic license to get to what we have here,” said Dave Trussell, who designed the railroad.
The museum — formerly known as the Greeley Freight Station Museum — lies in downtown Greeley, and it’s just a hop from the real railroad tracks that run on a north-south route through town. There’s plenty of railroading paraphernalia inside, including train bells that are fun for kids to ring and an actual Colorado & Southern wooden caboose that everyone enjoys climbing in.
But the model train is the main attraction. It was built and is run entirely by more than 200 volunteers. It takes a crew of up to 24 people to run the operation.
Trussell described his railroad in a recent interview with CBS4 a “massive undertaking.” It took more than five years to build and volunteers put in approximately 20,000 hours of work to get it going.
“I’m proud of the guys and the gals that helped put this thing together. It was a phenomenal effort by extremely talented people,” he said.
PHOTO GALLERY: Colorado Model Railroad Museum
There are 150 locomotives, 2,000 freight cars, 23,000 hand-made miniature trees and more than 4,000 feet of track.
And for one train to cover all the tracks on the railroad?
“One train, one engineer … when he picks his train up in staging and runs it through the entire layout, by the time he gets back to his starting place, typically it will take him — in real time — an hour and 45 minutes,” Trussell said.
The tracks run through rivers, woods, valleys and impressive mountains. The painted backdrops and artistically staged scenes are fun, with lumber yards, waterfalls, logging camps, kayakers and even a spot where a forest fire lights up a hillside while miniature firefighters do battle.
“We try to duplicate everything like the real railroads, and I think that’s why we attract a lot of active and retired railroaders,” Trussell said.
Administrators say the museum has become the leading year-round tourist attraction Weld County since it opened in 2009. Onlookers can pause to watch the trains go by at various spots amid the tracks, or on an observation platform on the train’s north side.
Children who visit the museum also have the option of going on a hunt to find as many small details as they can that are hidden throughout (such as small dinosaurs, or the bear who is riding down a river in a canoe after scaring off the paddlers.)
During the summer the museum is open on Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Outside of the summer (Labor Day through Memorial Day) the museum is open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Get specific times and prices at gfsm.org or call (970) 392-2934.
– Written by (and photos taken by) Jesse Sarles for CBSDenver.com