Student Newsroom

Train show picks up steam in Urbana


A model train rides down metal tracks at the 39th Annual Lincoln Mall Train Show on March 25. The event held a free raffle for a miniature train set, complete with railroads, train cars and a battery pack. Piotr Fedczuk

The whistle of engines garnered children’s attention as miniature trains chugged through colorful environments filled with mountains, fields, forests and UFOs.

The 39th Annual Lincoln Square Mall Train Show occurred on March 25 and 26, attracting model train enthusiasts from across the Midwest.

The two-day event featured miniature trains riding across railways, train documentaries for sale, a station for coloring wooden trains and a track for children riding hand-powered carts.

“I think (the show) is doing great,” said Ernie Noa, a member of the Midwest Live Steamers. “I mean, it's got quite a crowd here. This is a great show for people to come to. I think it'll grow and get bigger.”

Outside of Lincoln Square Mall, the Midwest Live Steamers host public events in children’s museums and railway museums in Illinois and Indiana.

“The real aspect of this hobby … is the camaraderie,” Noa said.

On his YouTube channel, Roa posts videos of his community’s model trains running down tracks and the construction process behind them.

“I probably enjoyed building them from scratch more than anything else,” Noa said. “Majority of my engines are all scratch built, but when I do a show like this, I'm bringing the engines that are really nice and detailed.”

Creating model steam trains costs roughly $600 in materials and two years of work, Noa said.

Pre-built trains can cost between $700 and $5,000, said Matthew Luhn, another member of the Midwest Live Steamers.

Luhn became interested in miniature steam trains during the COVID-19 lockdowns, he said, which kept him from staying inside all day.

“My job is working with Adobe software, and, you know, I like video games, too,” Luhn said. “So, this is a great breakaway from staring at a screen.”

Luhn said he hopes events like these bring him closer to the community.

“At the end of the day, the big thing here is to just show people, ‘Hey, there is this niche of the hobby,’” Luhn said.