NICHOLS HILLS — Several times a week, Jimmy Samis grabs his conductor's hat and goes out the front door of his condominium. He only has to take a few steps to be among the trains of the Rocky Mountains of the 1930s. His extensive model train collection is housed in a condo nearby.
Shan and Jimmy Samis have 15 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. There are elevated stools around the layout so the young ones can sit and watch the trains go by.
The layout models an era in the 1930-40s in a location between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. It is L-shaped, with each of the two legs about 28 feet long. The other dimension varies from 3 to 7 feet.
There are two main tracks around the perimeter with two tunnels, a nine-track yard with a large dock to re-ice the refrigerator cars, an engine storage and maintenance area with roundhouse and turntable, and various industries with rail sidings.
The rolling stock consists of 10 engines and 100-plus freight and passenger cars. A photograph of the Sierra Nevada Mountains covers the wall behind the layout.
Also in the layout are a golf course, towns and people; farms with cows and sheep; rivers and cars. The trains run through one wall into another room of the condo where they chug through a ski resort, complete with tiny skiers, all built to the HO scale of his railroad — about a 1:87 size ratio, where about .14 inches represents 1 real foot.
There are 63 switches, which are remotely controlled at a NASA-looking control panel, and each train's direction and speed is controlled independently with wireless remote controllers. During testing, four men ran and controlled seven trains.
“Each engine has its own address on the panel and the remote,” Samis said.
Samis knows about the history of the trains he is running, about the various engines, about refueling and about how the refrigerated cars brought fruits and vegetables from the West Coast.
An engineer by profession (he is now retired), he is aware of the great strides engineers made as they found and built railroad pathways through difficult mountains and over wide spans of water.
“Some people model a train operation about towns where they grew up. This one is about the West Coast and the Rockies,” he said. “Some people love trains for the buildings and scenery,” he added, “I just like to operate them.”
Samis had toy trains when he was young and saved them for his children. The boys were too young when they got them, and the electric trains did not survive their childhoods. His wife suggested that he take up trains as a hobby three years ago. A man in California helped him with the design after he sketched the layout he wanted. People at the Whistle Stop Store on Britton Road built it for him.
There is a display area for railroad memorabilia that contains a brass model of a 70-year-old Santa Fe steam engine. The unusual design has two sets of driving wheels of 10 wheels each.
There is also a collection of silver emblems of the greatest railroads in North America. This was a gift from friends Lyn and Ted Elam, and it belonged to Ted's grandfather.
Shan and Jimmy are still decorating the space housing the trains. Large photos of trains in action will be hung around the room above cushioned benches and tables that will provide seating for those railroad buffs who just want to sit and listen to the “choo choos” and watch the trains going around the various tracks.
Plus, there are the higher stools closer to the layout action that are available for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are just itching to get hold of the control panel.