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Model Trains for the “Little Boy or … the Big Boy?”

By Kathleen Knowles

For all you “little boys” out there, do you remember waking up on Christmas morning and finding that train set completely put together?  The train was going around the track with the “whoo, whoo” sounding. Do you remember your eyes lighting up? For there was nothing you wanted more in the whole wide world!

If you were not at the Blue Water Convention Center this past weekend, you missed a mind-blowing display of model trains.  We talked with TJ Gaffney of the Port Huron and Detroit Railroad Historical Society, a group founded in 2008 to honor those who worked for the organization.  Since that time, it has grown to honor all the railroads in the area.  In the last ten years, the Society has acquired a couple buildings, a caboose, and a Grand Trunk refrigerator car.

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The Society operates a museum in the former office of the Port Huron-Detroit building, located on 32nd Street in Port Huron Township.  Over forty years ago, the Huron Modelers’ Group started a show that has become a yearly tradition at the McMorran Pavilion, held there for thirty years.  The show moved from the Pavilion to the Convention Center when the Saint Clair County Community College purchased the Pavilion.   

Fred Cesefske, who organized the train show for nearly 30 years retired.  The Port Huron and Detroit Railroad Historical Society was asked to take over the show.  Mr. Gaffney said, “In the last year, we’ve been analyzing how things have changed in the model railroad world, and how we interact with the public; we kind of did a reboot.”  As a result, they now have some model railroad displays that have never been in the show before.  The Greater Miami group (from Ohio) is now a part of the show.  It is a massive display which is highly detailed with over a hundred cars in miniature.  Several dealers with a variety of formats, from models of many different scales to real pieces of railroad cars, timetables, and other things related to the actual railroad versus the models, were at the show.  The dealers come from all over Michigan as well as several states.  Some dealers hail from south-west Ontario.

Because kids are the future, TJ said they are looking to refocus toward families and in particular, the kids. There is a display of Thomas the Train engine, Harry Potter, and Howard’s Express.  “Quite frankly, if this hobby is going to continue, we have to bring in the next generation,” TJ said. “We have some specific areas where the kids can play and enjoy.” The show had been traditionally a one-day format, but the model trains were on display for two days, Saturday and Sunday.  It was expanded so families could enjoy the massive displays.

TJ Gaffney got involved through his god-father, Sandy Duffy, who was one of the founders of the organization.  Duffy’s family owned the railroad. TJ said he has been into trains since he was just a little guy.  His interest led to working for the railroad in Detroit.

There are also some displays of Great Lakes Maritime groups.  They deal in some objects related to the freighters that pass Port Huron every day.

If one is looking to build a model train, there are plenty of vendors who sell everything from miniature models to the full-size version.  Buildings, trees, and other objects can be added to dress up the display.  As TJ said, “It’s a one-stop shop for those who want to have a display of their own.”

So, if you want to see your child’s eyes light up on Christmas morning like yours did, don’t miss next year’s show.  You will be able to build an entire display for him (or her) to wake up to.


BWHL will be announcing the dates in advance of next year’s show.  Don’t miss it, and be prepared for a mind-blowing experience!

(All pictures from the displays permission of the Port Huron and Detroit Railroad Historical Society)

Kathleen Knowles

Blue Water Healthy Living Contributing Writer.


Kathleen Knowles is a life-long resident of Port Huron and a 1973 graduate of Port Huron High School. After attending St. Clair County Community College, she has worked for credit unions all of her life as well as a professional dog show handler, known for handling Pekingese. Kathleen has been writing fiction for years as a hobby, having posted many stories online.

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