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The Colorado Model Railroad Museum

An overview of the Colorado Model Railroad Museum. On the right is Gearhart Mountain, and in the background is the last operational Colorado & Southern wood caboose number 10583.

A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to visit the Colorado Model Railroad Museum in Greeley, Colorado. The cost of admission to the museum is $14 for adults, and is more than worth the price of admission to see the layout and tour the museum. The museum is an amazing collection of railroad artifacts, model railroad items, and a huge HO scale layout. The layout is named the Oregon, California, and Eastern Railway Company and replicates the Pacific Northwest area and other regions of the United States. The era for the layout is November 9th, 1975, the day before the Edmund Fitzgerald ore boat sank on Lake Superior, as a model of this ship is included on the layout.

HO scale model of the Edmund Fitzgerald built by museum founder David G. Tressell.


Port scene on the layout modeling the activities of the rail to marine transfer of goods.


David G. Trussell began the museum in 2002, after retiring from a 32 year career in journalism publishing. David has a lifelong passion for model railroading and built several layouts during the years prior to beginning the museum layout. Originally called the “Greeley Freight Station Museum” the name was changed to the Colorado Model Railroad Museum. David oversaw the construction of the 10,000 square foot facility and building of the layout. The museum was opened to the public on Memorial Day in 2009. The museum has hosted over 150,000 visitors since it first opened, and is a great way to introduce the public to the hobby of model railroading. Numerous volunteers have donated thousands of hours to the operation and construction of the museum and layout.

Two operators watch their train as it negotiates "The Loops" climbing from the lower level to the upper level of the layout through numerous tunnels and curves.

What struck me as I first arrived is the massive size of the HO scale layout. We began our tour by going up the second floor mezzanine level to get an overview of the layout. From here you really get a good idea of how the layout is designed and you can see the operators following their trains around the layout. In addition, there are numerous railroad artifacts and photos to be viewed on this level.

Firefighters combat a wildland fire. The fire and smoke effects are activated by guests.

Going back down stairs, visitors can walk through the layout following the aisles and viewing the layout up close. In numerous locations a red button is located on the fascia, a press of the button begins a special effect, from smoke rising from a building or wildland fire, to a woman feeding chickens as they peck the ground and cluck. The layout is designed as a double deck with the trains climbing from one level to the other via a series of loops in one corner of the layout room. The scenery in this area is specular, and you can follow the train as it ascends the grade, darting in and out of tunnels as it makes its climb.

Another amazing area on the layout is Gearhart Mountain, at over 1,054 scale feet it is one of the tallest HO scale mountains ever constructed. It is estimated that over half a ton of plaster went into constructing the mountain. While this mountain may be one of the highlights, the rest of the layout is just as spectacular. Numerous towns, structures, and rail served facilities follow the main line and contribute to the overall look of the layout.

A large lumber mill industry featuring a log pond and sawmill.

A city scene with a few operating vehicles moving through the streets.

The day we visited the railroad was run by an operating crew of approximately 15 volunteer operators under the watchful eye of a dispatcher at a CTC panel that controls the main line turnouts. The layout can also be run in an “automatic” mode by a computer that controls several trains at a time as they traverse the layout. I spoke to one of the operators and they said it took them over an hour to run from one end of the layout to the other. All the operators were very friendly and willing to answer any questions that guests had.

The day I visited I was able to meet Michelle Kempema, Executive Director of the museum. She offered to give me and my wife a behind the scenes tour of the layout. I got to see the impressive staging area under the layout not normally not seen by the public. Even with the large size of the staging area, more tracks are still needed to accommodate all the trains. Michelle stated that Mondays are cleaning day, and that track cleaning was a very important part of keeping the layout operating smoothly. A dedicated crew of volunteers each Monday cleans the track and the locomotive wheels, which is a massive undertaking on a layout as large as this. Michelle has done a great job of promoting the hobby with her very positive attitude and cheerful personality.

Staging area located below the main layout. Even with this large area they still need more tracks for staging trains.

I really enjoyed my visit to the Colorado Model Railroad Museum and I highly recommend making a trip to see the museum and the layout. It is fun for the entire family, and a great way to spend a day. Be sure to check the museum website for visiting hours and more information.

Until next time stay safe and keep model railroading.              

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1 Comment

The model of the Edmund Fitzgerald is impressive.

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