Mr. Conductor

Joe Clark

Photo By nick dobis

High in a loft above his son-in-law’s business, 77-year-old Joe Clark makes sure not a single detail is missing from his world. The trees are placed perfectly, the deer tracks zigzag smoothly, the sky is always blue, and the trains are always on schedule. Clark is the president of the High Sierra Model Railroad Club in Chico, a group that has managed to keep its hobby and club alive since 1999. The group originally had 12 members, but some have come and gone through the years, and today they number about five. Even though the club is small, the project they are working on is anything but. Clark and his members have transformed a 40-by-40-foot loft above Sierra Log Homes into a large model-train wonderland, with tunnels bored through walls, houses with people, trees, mountains, buildings, and of course, trains. Most of the materials they get are from Walthers Model Railroad Catalog, where some of the trains go for hundreds of dollars. The group pays for construction and train-set materials with membership dues, which are $30. Clark credits the passion of the few members as the reason why the club has been able to survive over the last 11 years. The club meets every Tuesday and Thursday night to run the trains at Sierra Log Homes, which is behind Home Depot. For more information call Joe Clark at 342-4305.

What is your favorite section of the track?

I would have to say the bridge with the multiple tunnels running through the mountain and the waterfall. It’s really neat to watch the trains pass through the tunnels. If you look at it closely, it looks a lot like the bridges on Highway 70 near Oroville; that was our inspiration.

Who did the paintings along the walls?

Those were done by Malcolm Thronley, who unfortunately passed away last year. Every day I see these paintings, and it’s almost like a memorial to him. I wouldn’t dare touch them; he did a magnificent job.

Where did your passion for model trains first begin?

About 15 years ago, my daughter and son-in-law asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I never had a train before, so I said, “I want a train.” So they got me my first set. I have always liked building things, so I began in the garage, and it just took off from there.

What are the club’s plans when you finish building in the loft?

You’re never finished. We always change things on a weekly basis, and we hate to see empty plywood. We want to finish one project at a time.