September 28, 2020 at 2:07 p.m.

Riding the imagination express

Bo (left) and Ian Afdahl show off their model railroading display at their family’s farm near Arkansaw, Wisconsin. The display captured top honors in the youth team division of the Walther’s Trains National Model Railroad Build-Off earlier this summer. PHOTO SUBMITTED
Bo (left) and Ian Afdahl show off their model railroading display at their family’s farm near Arkansaw, Wisconsin. The display captured top honors in the youth team division of the Walther’s Trains National Model Railroad Build-Off earlier this summer. PHOTO SUBMITTED

By Danielle Nauman- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

    ARKANSAW, Wis. – Ingenuity and imagination have served as the magnet that attracted brothers Bo and Ian Afdahl to the world of model railroading. Earlier this summer, the pair used that ingenuity and imagination to take top honors in the youth team division of the virtual Walther’s Trains National Model Railroad Build-Off.
    Bo, a 15-year-old sophomore at Durand High School, and Ian, a 13-year-old seventh grader, live with their parents, Brad and Kristin, on the family’s 47-cow registered Holstein dairy farm near the small town of Arkansaw in scenic Pepin County. The boys said much of the inspiration for the award-winning railroad display came from looking out their own back door at their family’s farm and the area they live in.
    “The settings we like to build for our trains come from the things around us,” Bo said. “We like to have farms because that is what we see.”
    The hobby started for the boys a couple of years ago when Brad purchased Ian a train set for Christmas, because the boy had loved the character Thomas the Tank Engine when he was younger. Soon, Bo became intrigued by the hobby as well, and the two began putting their proclivity toward craftsmanship to work.
    “We started out with three trains and little bit of track,” Bo said. “From there it just started to grow.”
    The boys now have 23 train engines between them, all of which are in working order. The brothers enjoys switching the engines out and creating trains to travel though their own make-believe countryside.
    Over the past couple of years, the boys have invested in their project using the money they earned from doing chores, making their creations mean all that much more. They also won a prize of $1,000 for their top-placing in the Walther’s contest, which they split and ultimately chose to reinvest in additional pieces for their railroading hobby.
    “Dad pays us for working on the farm, and then we can buy the things we decide we want,” Ian said. “Doing that teaches us a lot about how to be responsible and what money really means and is worth.”
    The boys have collected their railroads and pieces online, from antique shops, train stores and companies such as Walther’s. They have had good luck buying pieces from other collectors who vend at train shows they have attended. They have even been gifted with items from other model railroaders who are happy to see young people embrace the hobby. Each piece is carefully selected and chosen on the merit of its value to them.
    Not every piece comes to the boys in perfect condition. They have gotten locomotives that have developed loose connections during shipping. The pair has taught themselves the finer points of soldering and rewiring the engines to get them up and running again. Buildings for the various towns come in pieces, requiring the boys to build, paint and decorate them.  
    “A lot of the people who are into model railroading are older,” Bo said. “They have some really nice stuff. They have spent many years and a lot of money collecting it.”
    They are currently anxiously awaiting some of their newest acquisitions, purchased with their prize money, which are on order from Germany.
    When it became apparent that model railroading was more than just a passing fancy, with the help of their dad, the boys renovated the farm’s old milkhouse into their own little model railroad world. The center of the building features a table that has the train set that belonged to their grandfather, which they have continued to build upon, growing the backdrop of scenery and towns the train travels through.
    The perimeter of the room features another train track along with a wide and varied countryside for the trains to travel through on those tracks.
    The Afdahl boys are serious about the accuracy and intricacies of their model railroading and make sure not to mix the scale sizes of trains and features. The trains on the table are O-scale trains, while the trains traveling the countryside lining the perimeter are HO-scale, Bo said.
    “Everything, the tracks, the trains, the buildings, all of the details are the same scale size for each set,” Ian said.
    The brothers first learned of the Walther’s contest last spring, and ironically, the novel coronavirus pandemic worked in their favor, giving them extra time to create their contest entry.
    “When we first heard about it, the original deadline had passed,” Bo said. “But they had extended the deadline because of COVID.”
    The boys submitted an entry fee and were given a basic farm set-up for their category. The boys used their life experiences to embellish the project, creating a tiny working farm complete with cows grazing behind a fence, a vegetable garden and a sign welcoming those aboard the train to the idyllic little village of Afdahl Flats.
    “We had to be creative with the farm to make it unique,” Bo said. “We used what we knew from living on a farm.”
    Once they were satisfied with their final product, photos were submitted to a website. Bo and Ian were elated to learn in late July they had made it to the semi-finals and could hardly believe when they learned they had taken top honors in the contest in August.
    The boys will not be defending their title in the youth team division in 2021. Based on the age requirements, Bo will have to move into the adult category. He is not sure he is of the skill level to compete in that arena just yet. Ian is uncertain if he has the eye for the fine details to create a display worthy of winning the youth individual category.
    Their mother, Kristin, is happy to see her boys engaging in an activity that requires them to use their brains and develop skills that will last them for a lifetime. She considers the attention they have gotten from their placing in the contest as a bonus.
    “They are doing something constructive with their free time,” Kristin said. “As a family, we have always enjoyed history and visiting museums and depots and things like that. This has been a great extension of those excursions.”
    For Bo, the greatest enjoyment comes in the details, some so delicate they require tweezers and magnifying glasses. Ian enjoys the prospect of creating and planning the layout of the terrain and countryside the trains traverse.
    What do the brothers do when their little world becomes overpopulated with traveling trains and tiny villages?
    Ian, the grand planner, said the logical thing would be to add a second story and keep creating. Bo, on the other hand, looks to the smaller and finer points.
    “Keep working on this to keep making it better,” Bo said.


You must login to comment.

Top Stories

Today's Edition



27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

To Submit an Event Sign in first

Today's Events

sep 27, 2023 @ 12:00pm
sep 27, 2023 @ 12:00pm