The late Harry Harvey had the idea for a park where families could go to ride and learn about trains.
As Patrick Duling gazed across the Molalla Train Park, he thought back to how things were when he was a still a kid, how much things have changed, and how much has stayed the same.
Duling, 41, is the president of Northwest Live Steamers, the group of scale-model train enthusiasts who make their home at the park on Shady Dell Road that was founded by the late Harry Harvey.
The park will celebrate its 60th anniversary next month.
The parks trains are 1.5-inch scale (1 foot full scale = 1.5 inch model scale), which makes them big enough for people to sit on and ride. The trains run on 7 1/2-inch-wide track and there is 4,200 feet of track that loops around a picnic area.
The track pretty much goes the same place as it did when I was young, said Duling, who was in the third grade when his parents first started making the drive from Forest Grove to Molalla. The dimensions have changed, whether that means a siding has been added or theres a bridge now where before there wasnt.
For 60, the park has aged remarkably well.
Buildings have sprouted where once there were none. The small station that had no roof has been replaced by a bigger, covered station with concrete sidewalks and room for five trains. And there is a 2,600-square-foot roundhouse with compartments for 26 locomotives that is nearing completion and has been two years in the making.
What hasnt changed is Harveys founding philosophy providing the public with a place where families can go to ride and learn about trains.
When Harvey died, he left the park to the Steamers, who on Saturday and Sunday will celebrate Founders Day in recognition of Harveys birthday. The parks 60th Anniversary celebration is scheduled Aug. 8-10, and then the Steamers will host a three-day TrainFest Meet on Aug. 30-Sept. 1.
The park is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays, holidays and special occasions, and the season runs from the first Sunday in May to the last Sunday in October.
Admission to the park is free and there is no fee to ride the trains.
Donations help keep the park running and there are donation boxes located near the front entrance and next to the station.
People ask, Why dont you charge admission? Duling said. At one point in time, they did, but it was for only a short time. They havent charged a fee here for the longest time and I cant bring myself to do it. At least, not as long as Im president.
Its not all about making money. Yes, the almighty dollar pays the bills and covers the cost of fuel, and youre hoping things fall into place to make that happen without having to charge those who are less fortunate.
You never know, that less-fortunate kid riding the train, maybe thats going to be the next train club president or the next industrialist with the ability to make a substantial donation to the park where his family used to go when they couldnt afford to go somewhere else.
The Steamers spend about $2,500 annually on diesel fuel. Donations average between $800-$900 each week in season, so it takes three or four weeks to collect enough money to pay off one of the groups biggest expenses.
The all-volunteer group also employs a resident groundskeeper, but most of the other expenses fall on the members, most of whom have invested between $10,000 and $50,000 on their locomotives.
On a typical Sunday, the park attracts between 500 and 1,500 visitors. Its also not uncommon for 10 to 15 trains to run simultaneously or to have between 1,000 and 2,000 rides on a busy day.
Although the park is officially open on Sundays, club members are there most other days, working on their trains and making test runs. So when visitors show up during off days, theyre welcome to look around the park, and usually can find someone with a train that is eager to give them a ride.
Were not going to turn anybody away, Duling said. We may not have steam engines running on Saturday, but weve got trains and well pull the public, and well do our best to entertain them and make sure they have a great time.
Jeremy McArthur of Molalla recently visited the park with his wife Sarah and their children, 9-year-old Aidan, 6-year-old Liam, and 2-year-old Audrey. McArthur said someone told him aoub the park four years ago and that his family has visited a couple times a years since then.
Its a nice place to take kids, McArthur said. Its very peaceful here and its fun for everybody. Its just a great family activity.
Attendance has picked up in recent years as the Steamers have increased their exposure online through craigslist, Facebook, and a few kids-oriented websites. They also took part in National Train Day at Portlands Union Station in May, as well as Molallas annual Fourth of July Giant Street Parade.
Its amazing how many people here in Molalla dont have a clue this park is here, said Duling, adding that the split is close to 50/50 between those who have been coming to the park for years and those who are visiting for the first time.
Duling said he probably met Harvey when he was younger, but he doesnt remember the parks founder.
Regardless, if Harvey were alive today, what would he think of what has happened to his park?
First, Id hope that he would educate me on where weve made mistakes, Duling said. And then I would hope that hed just kind of put his hands in his pockets and smile.
When youre happy about something, nothing more needs to be said.