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Families appreciate Hennepin Overland Railroad Museum

Posted on 26 March 2018 by calvin

Historical Society at 2501 E. 38th St. operates one of largest railroad displays in the five-state region

Features of the layout include a steel mill complex, a grain terminal complex, two industrial/warehouse areas, a passenger depot for 15-car passenger trains, and a full branch line that can also be run as a second interchanging railroad. There is also a locomotive/car shop complex, a logging branch line, 1500-car main staging yards, a 150-car branch line staging yard, a fully operating signal system using block occupancy detection, and full digital command and control using Digitrax DCC. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
You don’t have to travel far to view one of the largest operating H.O. scale model railroad displays in the five-state region. The Hennepin Overland Railroad Historical Society Museum at 2501 E. 38th St. sits just a few blocks off Hiawatha Ave. and welcomes visitors weekends from September through April.

The historical society has a long track record of serving the community through preserving the history of one of the industries that the nation was founded on.

“I think the passion of the volunteers/members and the quality of the craftsmanship of the display are evident to anyone who stops in,” remarked Chris Rasmussen, a Richfield resident who has been a member of the historical society since he was 14. “The long tenure of the organization, commitment of our volunteers, and prudent management of the organization’s finances have allowed us to be one of a select few railroad museums in the area that has been able to purchase/own our own facility, which goes a long way towards guaranteeing stability looking forward.”

For Deputy Commander John Roban, the value of the museum lies in the history is preserves. “It’s not just a museum,” he said, “but it’s a history of what took place—and even today how things are moved by railroad.”

Photo right: Deputy Commander John Roban stays with his train as he runs it around the 4,000-sq-ft railroad display of the Hennepin-Overland Museum to make sure it doesn’t run into another. During daytime operating sessions members operate a variety of models and are available to discuss any questions regarding model railroading, bench work, track laying, construction, scenery, wiring, structures, and membership. The museum is open Saturdays and Sundays, 1-4pm, September through April. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

The museum is family-friendly with several small toy train tables located near the front of the museum for kids to play on.

“It’s a good activity that everyone should be able to enjoy,” said 40-year member Bill Danger, who joined right after the organization formed and is one of its longest members. “Since the beginning of time, kids have been interested in trains.”

Danger, who will turn 80 this year, remembers living in Eau Claire, Wis. during the war. His dad took him to see the Chicago-Northwestern 400 roll through town each weekend. In 1949, they took the train to the Railroad Fair in Chicago where he rode a Vista Dome Zephyr for the first time. He was hooked and started riding trains more frequently. He became friends with a conductor on the Chicago-Burlington-Quincy route who was stationed out of La Crosse, who showed him around the trains. In those days, you could travel to Chicago and back every day, or from Chicago to the Twin Cities and back.

Then in 1954, he took his first trip out to New York at age 16.

“They got you there,” recalled Danger. “They’re a comfortable ride. You can see the scenery en route.”

He’s been collecting model trains for 60 years and appreciates having a big layout at Hennepin Overland to run the trains on.

Photo left: Eighty-year-old Bill Danger is one of the longest members of the Hennepin Overland Railroad Historical Society. He’s been collecting model trains for 60 years and appreciates having a big layout at Hennepin Overland to run the trains on. Within the south Minneapolis facility, the Hennepin Overland Railroad Historical Society operates a railroading museum, the “Station 2501” museum/hobby shop, and a 65-foot-long by 29-foot-wide HO-scale model train layout. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Passionate about trains
Chris Rasmussen has been involved in the club all his life as his dad, Jim Rasmussen, has been president of the society for over 30 years. Rasmussen became a junior member in 1993. With small kids at home, Rasmussen isn’t able to get into the museum as much as he’d like to, but he helps out in other ways, by managing the social media presence of the organization, working with donors and more.

“I love the attention to detail, the extensive knowledge of the other members on the history of the industry, the passion of the guys on getting the historical accuracy of the models correct, and most of all, spending time with my dad,” remarked Rasmussen.

As a child, his dad bought him a train car or accessory every year for Christmas and his birthday. He built his first H.O. scale model train layout in his parent’s basement starting when he was about 11 or 12.

“I would tag along with my dad to the Hennepin Overland on Saturday afternoons a few times a month when I was a teenager. When the Hennepin Overland moved into our own building I spent most of the summer of 1999 going over there every day after work to get the layout ready for the national model railroad convention,” recalled Rasmussen.

In the details
The Hennepin Overland is the successor to an unincorporated association of railroad hobbyists formed in 1976 in Richfield that operated in the basement of the Hub Shopping center underneath the Hub Hobby store. In 1985, the Hennepin-Overland (then 1,600 sq ft) moved to Lexington and University in St. Paul (next to the Scale Model Supply hobby store) and was reassembled by 1987. The museum grew to 4,000 sq ft, and then once again found itself looking for space.

This time, the organization decided to buy rather than rent to avoid having to move and reassemble things again—as it is such a time-consuming process, explained Jim Rasmussen.

Photo right: Henry Overzet (right) is one of the youngest and newest members of the historical society. On his left is Roger Anderson. In all, the historical society has about 30 members. Membership is available to those age 14 and older. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

In 1997 the historical society purchased the current building in Minneapolis. After fixing up the old print shop, members began to reassemble the display. In July 1999, the display was opened in time for the National Model Railroad Association Convention in St. Paul.

The railroad display of the Hennepin-Overland Museum currently consists of eastbound and westbound mainlines, a branch line serving the fictitious towns of New Bergin and Summit, a logging line featuring a breathtaking hand-made trestle bridge and a logging camp, multiple upper-level storage yards and industrial spurs, and lower-level storage/staging yards.

There is no prototype for the Hennepin-Overland. It is a freelance layout design. J. Rasmussen estimates that the layout is about 60-70% complete.

There is no particular era represented, though members try to use structures that date to the late steam era (1930-1960).

The main line is a two-track loop enabling continuous running, although reverse loops around the main helix allow it to be operated as a two-track loop-to-loop main.

Operationally the layout could be operated by one person (but somewhat limited) or up to about 15 people.

Features of the layout include a fully operating signal system using block occupancy detection, and full digital command and control using Digitrax DCC.

New members welcome
The society has approximately 30 members. Benefits of membership include the ability to operate trains, as well as to work on the construction of the layout. Members can operate their own trains on the society operating display or can operate the society’s trains if they don’t have their own. The historical society welcomes new members year-round.

Hennepin Overland accepts donations of trains, books, magazines and more. If the trains aren’t the right size for their display, they’re spruced up and sold with the proceeds benefiting the society.

Hours of operation are Saturdays and Sundays 1 to 4pm, September through April. Night trains ran each Saturday in January. Society members spend the summer months implementing major maintenance and improvements to the operating display that require taking it offline for extended periods of time.

The museum typically opens for National Night Out, and can make special accommodations for large groups who want to come in during the summer, or for special events like national conventions when they are held in the area. Admission is a suggested donation of $7 each or $20 per family.
More information at hennepinoverland.org.

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