All Aboard: Display at Indianapolis Public Library Fort Ben Branch to celebrate model trains


Bill Kennedy has been making model trains and railroads for seven decades, starting with simple wooden train kits and working his way up to highly detailed trains and track designs.

He and other members of the Central Indiana Division of the Model Railroad Association will share their love of model trains with a special one-day exhibit, set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 30 at the Indianapolis Public Library’s Fort Ben Branch, 9330 E. 56th St.

“We will have 10-12 different small railroad layouts with trains running throughout the day,” he said. “People (will be) there to talk about various things that they asked (us) to display.”

Kennedy said he enjoys the process of designing a model railroad and the imagination that’s needed to make it all come together. It starts with planning out a track to carry the trains, he said. Then comes the construction part — making the trains, laying the tracks and designing the scenery that the trains run through. His favorite part is when it’s all put together and he gets to run his trains along the tracks.

“Operating is the most fun, of course, and sometimes it’s roundy-roundy and sometimes it’s very detailed switching layouts where you operate and place cars someplace and move them to another place because that’s what real railroads do,” he said.

Kennedy said creating a functioning model railroad is a STEM activity, with an added letter.

“There’s an acronym that we frequently use nowadays called STEM — science, technology, engineering and math,” he said. “Model railroaders kind of extend that to STEAM, which is science, technology, engineering, art and math, because we do a bit of artwork in terms of creativity with developing that layout.

“But you have to work through basic engineering principles and science of electricity and so on and so forth to get there. So, STEAM is a pretty important part of our hobby.”

Kennedy said that through the exhibit, members of the CID of MRA want to encourage more people to take up model railroads as a hobby. He said it isn’t as popular as it once was.

“Way back when, you had hardware stores on the corner and there were little mom-and-pop shops, but they’d have trains at Christmas, and they didn’t just have one basic set — they had extra cars and extra track, different power systems to power the engines and whatnot and different engines, and that that was a big Christmastime thing,” he said.

Stephen McKenzie is the interim branch manager for the IPL Fort Ben Branch. He said the exhibit will be in the library’s community room and, in addition to the trains and railroad displays, will include information about the history of the rail that used to run through the former Fort Benjamin Harrison Army base.

“We’re trying to tie in the model trains to the heritage of the area,” he said. “Apparently, the train tracks actually ran directly (through) where the library is standing.”

And the former rail depot on Lawton Loop is still standing and now houses La Hacienda restaurant.

The March 30 event will include crafts and activities for kids, McKenzie said, and they will have a display of books related to the topic.

Although the exhibit opens at 10 a.m., the first hour is geared toward patrons with sensory sensitivity.

“As much as possible, we’ll try to make it so that the trains are not as loud,” he said. “So, for people who have sensory needs, they can still enjoy the event without worrying so much about giant crowds and stuff like that.”

He said the intricate work on some of the trains and railroad designs is impressive.

“They’ve got some trains in the display case right now, and it’s kind of amazing how detailed some of them are, especially — they have the tiny … trains — they’re so small but they’re so detailed,” McKenzie said. “It’s like, wow, a lot of craft went into making that.”

He said they hope to host the model railroad exhibit annually.

For more, visit

If you go

What: Fort Ben Model Railroad Train Show

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 30

Where: Indianapolis Public Library’s Fort Ben Branch, 9330 E. 56th St., Lawrence

Special note: From 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., the exhibit is geared toward those with sensory sensitivities.