“I used to be the main express
All steam and whistles heading west ...
But this train don’t stop
This train don’t stop
This train don’t stop there anymore”
- Bernie Taupin, Elton John
When she was a little girl, Skip Young was given two trains by her father one Christmas. She wasn’t allowed to touch either.
“My father would set them up and run them,” Young recalled. “I may have been too young to play with them, but I was too young to know that. I was a frustrated railroader from then on. I became the train lady.”
Back in 1980, she partnered with another frustrated model railroader, Ken Gentili. He designed the track, using realistic elevations on a corkscrew path. Young handled the scenery and structures.
The Corkscrew Northern Railroad was born in Young’s Tacoma basement, but quickly outgrew it.
“We had to move it out while we still could,” she said.
At birth, the CNR model was 4-feet-by-8-feet. A year later, when it was shown at the model railroaders national show in California, it weighed 500 pounds.
Over the next decade, dozens of modelers worked on the CNR, and it made regular appearances at mall shows and at the Puyallup Fair. By 1984, it was shown all over the Northwest and was so large it had to be hauled in a flatbed truck.
“It became a community railroad,” Gentili said. “It was displayed in four National Model Railroad Shows, at the Pacific Science Center, The Western Washington Fair, the Tacoma Mall, and multiple local mall shows.”
In 1991, Gentili and Young found a home for their train, which by then included cities and ponds, train yards and mountains.
It went to the Gonyea Boys & Girls Club in Tacoma.
“Master modelers developed a curriculum and worked with children on learning to engage in a structured group activity,” Gentili said. “We gave the children an opportunity to use and respect extremely high quality and expensive equipment.
The CNR was on loan to the club, and everyone seemed pleased.
“Skip and I owned it,” Gentili said. “We wanted it housed somewhere where we could continue to have modelers work on it, have it seen and used by kids and others.”
Gentili and Young found a partnership with the youth organization that lasted for years. But in the late ’90s, the train programs stopped.
The railroaders blamed cold weather and an unheated outbuilding.
The Boys & Girls Club said interest was fading.
Over the years, the club needed storage space. It began to use the outbuilding, filling stuff around the model railroad.
The Corkscrew Northern’s last hurrah was in the summer of 2004, when girls from the club ran the railroad in preparation for a National Model Railroad show, Gentili said.
For the six years before that, and seven years after, the CNR lay in the outbuilding with so many other stored items, modelers couldn’t access it.
It took up a lot of space, what with its 35 bridges and 375 feet of track. The model consisted of 22 sections that, when assembled, required a room at least 231/2 feet by 42 feet.
In January 2011, a club spokesperson said, Young and Gentili were told the railroad had to find a new home.
“We agreed to work together,” Gentili said.
That summer, one club official found a potential site – the Old Cannery Furniture Warehouse in Sumner. The business was interested but wouldn’t grant unlimited access to railroad modelers to continue working on it.
The deal fell through.
A year after its initial request, the Boys & Girls Club asked again for the railroad to be moved. The club says it told Young and Gentili it had to happen in the next six months. Gentili insists there was no deadline.
The railroaders looked for the perfect spot, and the club kept waiting.
Last October, a spokeswoman said, the Boys & Girls Club took action. More than 20 months after asking that the model railroad be moved, the club disposed of it and the CNR ceased to exist.
“We dispersed as much of it as we could and got rid of the pieces that were unusable,” said spokeswoman Jinnie Hanson.
Apparently, no one told Gentili. He said he got members of the LeMay Family Collection Foundation interested in January, and wanted to show them the railroad. Gentili called the club to arrange a visit – and was told there was nothing left to see.
“I was flabbergasted,” he said. “It wasn’t theirs. We weren’t even consulted.”
Gentili drove to Young’s home to give her the news.
“I’m sick over it,” Young said recently. “They told us we had to move it and we understood. But it’s large, and it wasn’t easy to find a place to move it where it could fit and be enjoyed. People who worked on it over the years died, and we put memorials to them in the model.
“All that is gone now? It’s just hard to believe.”
Doesn’t matter which side is right. The train don’t stop here anymore.Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638