Ted Moreland has always liked trains, but growing up in an Air Force family meant frequent moves, so he never built a model train layout.
He made up for that hole in his youth many times over later on, having for the past three-plus decades helped build one of the largest model railroads in the East Bay.
"Now I can really indulge my hobby, and I do," said Moreland, a 67-year-old Pittsburg resident who has been a member of the Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society since 1975.
And it's a hobby that has been changing at roughly the same speed as the rest of the computer-assisted world. Advanced electronics have revolutionized this hobby; whereas many HO-scale models 30 years ago were poor-running, badly detailed pieces controlled by bulky power packs, or clunky snap-together plastic buildings, newer models are highly "super detailed" locomotives, cars and structures.
And many locomotives have digital sound; steam engines huff and puff realistically, and a model of a General Motors diesel has different sound than a model of a locomotive produced by the American Locomotive Company -- just as they do in the real objects.
These are among the changes reflected on the Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society's layout, as the club celebrates this year both its 65th anniversary and its 40th year at its Larkey Park building -- built entirely by club members -- south of Geary Road in the western end of the city.
Moreland said approximately
While model railroading as a hobby has never been more popular -- there is a wider variety of products available now than ever before -- the old-line formal model railroad clubs have been having recruitment problems, according to Jim Hediger, senior editor of Model Railroader magazine, based in suburban Milwaukee.
As with many clubs and fraternal associations, Hediger said in an e-mail that today's young adult and middle-aged modelers have increasingly lost interest in any activity that involves regular participation.
Two other kinds of model railroad clubs have burgeoned in recent years, Hediger said. There are those in which modelers get together "round-robin" style to meet at each others' homes to operate the host's layout -- usually in a basement or garage.
There are also "modular clubs," where each member builds his (or occasionally, her) own small standard-size piece of a larger layout, which are then assembled to operate for the duration of a public show or a local convention.
It's hard to gauge the membership of such clubs, Hediger said, "but it is substantial."
The Walnut Creek club started with eight members going "round robin" to each others' homes and layouts. Now, on its 65th anniversary, the club has 65 members, down only slightly from its all-time high of 73.
But members say their ranks are aging. There's a small core of very young members, ages 18-25, Jim Harrison said, but few middle-aged members.
"We're trying to get people into the hobby, because it's a fun hobby," said 34-year club member Harrison, 62, of Martinez.
Ask 10 model railroaders why they like trains, and you'll likely get a different answer from each -- or perhaps no real answer, as it can't always be explained. From there, though, the love of model trains often has a clearer motivation.
Some modelers want to recreate a place or time they wish they could have visited (or did visit) in person; others like the camaraderie of other modelers; and some like the craft of building detailed rolling stock, buildings or scenery.
That craftsmanship is readily apparent on the Walnut Creek layout -- starting with its extensive tracks, all hand-laid, each crosstie laid separately, each rail fastened to them with real miniature spikes.
"The railroad is now 38 years old but runs like new due to the diligent maintenance that the layout regularly receives," said member Bob Ferguson.
And that's where the camaraderie comes into play -- the tracks, switches, buildings and scenery don't make and maintain themselves. As with any model railroad club layout, it's a group effort.
Even if electronics have become a prominent focus in model trains these days, and many of the modern cars and buildings come already built, there's still plenty of room for straight-up resourcefulness. An example, Harrison said -- wedding veil material makes excellent HO-scale cyclone fencing like you'd find in a backyard or around an industrial lot.
"When you pull that veil up, you've pulled up about 350 feet of fencing," Harrison said.
The next open night for the Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society is Friday, June 29, from 8 to 10 p.m. Cost is Adults, $3; seniors 60 and older, $2; children 6-12, $2; children under 12, free; Uniformed Scouts, $3 for adult chaperone and up to six Scouts. The club building is at 2751 Buena Vista Ave., in Walnut Creek's Larkey Park. For more information, go to http://www.wcmrs.org/