WESTMINSTER, Colo. — On a recent November morning, the basement of a Westminster Church was buzzing with excitement.
A group of kids, along with their parents, had gathered for a regular meeting of Youth in Model Railroading.
At the front of the room stood the group’s founder and leader, Larry Price.
“Take a seat, we’ve got more chairs, more chairs over there,” Price told the group. “Welcome to our November meeting. Today we’ve got a lot going on!”
For the next several hours, kids – mostly boys -- ranging in age from elementary school to high school spent time crafting their own trains and layouts, operating train electronics, chatting about trains, and learning about the hobby from Price and a few other adults who lead the club.
“I just think it’s really cool to see how they work,” said Eli Harder, a 12 year old involved in the organization. “Its fun, I like to learn about the mechanics of them, I like to learn about the history of trains.”
“Every meeting that we do, sometimes it just blows my mind – that we actually put this together and these kids are super excited about doing this type of work,” Price said.
Youth in Model Railroading first started more than two decades ago – back when Larry’s son Cameron was just a kid. The two were trying to find a train club that catered to children, but instead only found clubs for adults.
“They were all serious,” Cameron remembers of the adults. “They didn’t want a tree out of place or a rock out of place.”
“We had our first meeting in January of 1997,” Larry added. “We had 13 kids… and no clue what we were going to do.”
Over the years, they figured it out.
Since the 90s, the club has evolved. Larry and other adult leaders have created a sort of ‘curriculum’ that advances kids through a series of skill levels – earning new, train-inspired titles as they go.
“I’m right now at a rail-worker,” 12-year old Eli explained. “And I’m trying to get to a brakeman.”
Price said similar clubs have organized in other cities, inspired by Youth in Model Railroading, and modeling their organizations after his.
Other train hobbyists, or their families, will often donate items to the club. Price said most of those donations are used for activities with the kids. Whatever is left over, Price said the club sells at their club-run train shop – a tiny, family-owned storefront in Westminster. The club members work volunteer shifts at the shop to earn store credit – to spend on trains and accessories. The public is welcome to shop there, too.
“Just learning business skills, then we get a $50 credit every time we volunteer,” said 13-year old Cameron, a member of YMR and regular shop volunteer.
“I basically manage it, but I don’t get any money myself,” Price said. “All goes to train club. The money we do make there helps with clinics like today.”
Occasionally, YMR will host a train show (or, prior to the pandemic, travel to participate in other train shows). At a show in Westminster in December, kids took turns running trains of all types around several very elaborate tracks.
“Its… exciting!” Price said. “Chaotic! The kids are having a lot of fun – to me, that the important thing. For kids to come run trains and have fun at it.”
YMR members from the early years eventually grew up, but not everyone grew out of their love for trains.
“I started out on little trains and then they got bigger,” joked William Gant, who joined YMR as a child. Now in his early 30s, Gant works on real trains for living.
“I work for a little tourist railroad up in Georgetown, Colorado. We have like three miles of track and 100 year old steam locomotives.”
He has fond memories of his childhood with YMR and even brought his stepdaughter to the November meeting to introduce her to more of the hobby.
“For me [YMR] kept the passion of trains alive, it kept my interest in trains alive and gave me an outlet to express my creativity in a way I otherwise couldn’t,” Gant said.
Cavin Wagner met his future wife at the train club when they were just kids playing together and traveling to train shows. His wife, Kaitlyn Price, is founder Larry Price’s daughter.
“When he gets up there and he has a paintbrush and a train in his hand – it’s like he’s a little kid again,” Wagner said. “I think he really likes just spreading the love and sharing his passion.”
“I think it’s awesome,” Kaitlyn Price said about her father’s passion for trains, kids, and the club. “I think its amazing for someone to have a passion for something for 25 years. And when you hear him talk, you can still hear that passion… Trains has been his life as long as I’ve remembered. And I think he’s really evolved the club into something that is beyond what he even initially imagined it could be.”
Price is quick to credit the other adult volunteers for their role in keeping the club running, too. His favorite thing about YMR is watching the kids enjoy the hobby as much as he does.
“For me it’s just having the kids run trains. You can see their smiles, even the older kids running trains – to me, that’s a good day.”
To learn more about Youth in Model Railroading visit here.
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