OGDEN — The Forest Service’s loss is the model train world’s gain.
Warren’s Hobby Shop in Union Station is moving into expanded digs with a view of the full-size trains in Union Station’s collection.
Soon people admiring the brilliant yellow Union Pacific diesel, or the massive 833 Steam Engine in Union Station’s collection, will be able to step inside the model train shop and buy one just like it, ready to run around the kitchen table.
The move should be done by this weekend, just in time for this year’s Hostler’s Model Railroad Festival, which starts Friday and runs through Sunday. The festival fills the station with model railroad displays, dealers and fans, and is Warren’s biggest event of the year.
The shift is a gamble for the shop, which has been a fixture in Union Station for several decades. Expanding and moving costs money, but it’s an opportunity to take advantage of shifting growth patterns in the model railroad industry and to help Union Station fill it’s space.
The U.S. Forest Service had an information center in a large front room at Union Station, 2501 Washington Blvd., for decades. Recent funding cuts forced the information office to move to the Ogden Ranger District office, 507 25th St. That is now where people looking for travel information and parks passes have to go.
The shift left Union Station with prime space standing empty on its south end, right next to its outdoor train display of full-size locomotives.
Meanwhile, Warren’s Hobby Shop, in a small room off the hallway leading to Union Grill restaurant, was crowded, trying to add inventory with no place to put it. It needs to expand to compete with on-line hobby supply shops and to better display what it has.
Union Station Foundation Director Roberta Beverly said the station worked out a deal for the hobby shop to move into the Forest Service’s space, greatly expanding its possibilities for both sales and displays.
Danny Caballero, one of four co-owners of Warren’s, said the shop currently caters mostly to model builders, the people who build small scale buildings and sets for model trains, although not always. People who build miniature houses, guns and other things also visit looking for supplies and tools.
Most new model train customers, he said, aren’t young people. They’re older folks who have retired and have decided it’s time to take up that model train hobby they’ve wanted to pursue for so long. The shop can’t compete with discount stores selling the lower-cost models train sets, he said, but can bring in better-quality items the more serious modelers look for.
So, “the plan is to expand and carry more trains in HO (a scale size), but we also want to carry N scale and O scale,” he said. Model trains come in various sizes based on their scale to full sized trains. HO scale is the most common, in which the tracks are about an inch apart. N-scale is half that size, and O-scale uses much larger metal tracks that were common in the 1950s, such as those used by Lionel trains.
Warren’s Hobby Shop almost went out of business five years ago.
Warren Holmgren and his wife, Dee, opened the shop 26 years ago and are still a co-owner. He said he and Dee wanted to retire five years ago and sold the shop.
The new owner couldn’t make a go of it, however, and Holmgren said he was faced with either losing everything or taking the shop back. He couldn’t afford to take it back by himself, so decided to appeal to other model railroaders in the community.
“I did a lot of pondering and a lot of thinking,” Holmgren said. “I thought, ‘I bet there’s some individuals who’d like to be partners with us and get that thing rolling again.’”
There were: Caballero, Rob Bruening and Rick Glismann all threw in. With Holmgren and his wife, each holds 25 percent of the shop.
They take turns staffing the shop. Caballero said nobody is making much of a paycheck yet, but they do get to hang out with model trains all day.
“It all goes back into the shop,” he said as he stood in the shop’s new space, admiring the clean carpets and open areas where displays can go.
Holmgren’s health is not good, so he doesn’t come into the shop often. His wife does, as often as she can, and is excited to see the changes.
Not all the growth is retirees, she said.
“You know, we’ve hung in here all these years, sales and service type of people, and we’ve got the next generation coming in.” she said. “I tell people, ‘Hey, you came in when you were a little kid, now you’re bringing in your little kid. It’s been a pleasure to be part of it.”