Toy train society has model sizes G and O for viewing at McHenry Museum

James Holbrook, of Modesto, works on a block signal light on this G gauge train display.  G and O gauge trains are on display.
James Holbrook, of Modesto, works on a block signal light on this G gauge train display. G and O gauge trains are on display. Modesto Bee

Model railroad enthusiasts have been working all the livelong day to set up the newest exhibit at the McHenry Museum.

Starting Saturday, museumgoers can explore two room-filling layouts of trains running through towns and tunnels, across bridges and beneath towers.

The O-scale (about 1:45 scale) setup just off the right of the museum entrance features small wonders beyond the detailed trains themselves.

There's Mel's Diner, where the jukebox plays and the carhops "skate" on tracks to waiting cars.

At the carwash, you can hear (if a train's not rumbling past at the moment) the attendant instruct a customer to "pull ahead, please."

At the little hardware store, a look through the windows reveals tiny tables -- with equally tiny toy trains circling their surfaces.

The exhibit was installed by members of the Toy Train Operating Society, San Joaquin Valley Division, which began in 1975 and has 57 members from Merced to Lodi. In addition to the model setups, the exhibit includes antique train lanterns whose globes are embossed with the names of railways including the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific, framed artwork and metal signs on the walls, and a wall cabinet with china from railroad dining cars.

In the museum's main upstairs exhibit room is a 29-by-21-foot G-scale (about 1:22 scale) display built by society member Ed Cathcart of Modesto. Dubbed the River Fox Railroad, it features an Old West town (with sheriff's office, fire station and post office) in addition to rail station buildings Cathcart created from scratch. "I take a lot of pictures of old railroad stations" to base the models upon, he said.

Perhaps the most eye-catching piece of his layout is a working lift bridge like the one over the San Joaquin River at the Mossdale "Y," where Interstates 5 and 205 meet Highway 120. The bridge doubles as a gateway into Cathcart's train layout, and when it's fully lifted, he barely has to duck to enter.

Cathcart began setting up his layout Monday afternoon and had his trains running by Tuesday. He had it a bit easier than the guys putting up the O-scale exhibit though, because his trains are battery-powered, self-propelled and radio controlled, while the O trains require powered tracks.

Cathcart's G-scale display will be up four weeks, and he plans to man the table during all museum hours, which are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. The O-scale exhibit will be up through May 21, and train society members hope to fully staff it, too, to operate it and answer visitors' questions.

The model train exhibit is the focus of this weekend's First Sundays program at the museum. From 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, the children's program will offer information on Modesto's rail-related past and activities, including making a wooden train to take home. Admission to the museum and the First Sundays program are free. The museum is at 1402 I St. For more information, call 577-5366.