Denise Crosby: New rec center could derail model railroad club
By Denise Crosby September 29, 2013 7:58PM
From left, George Griesmann and Michael Pirelli stand in front of the Little Q Model Railroad Club display inside Copley II Recreation Center. The club needs to find a new home after being in this Fox Valley Park District facility since 1963. | Denise Crosby ~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 1, 2013 6:16AM
When Michael Pirelli and George Griesmann pulled back the sliding doors to reveal the hidden room at the Copley II Recreation Center in Aurora, their eyes were as shiny as two little kids at Christmas.
And why not? What lay before us — a panorama that included almost 600 square feet of model trains — mirrors what’s been a utopian playland for generations of young boys.
While childhoods may end, male fascination with model trains does not. Included in this layout were main lines, branch lines, roadbeds with beveled edges, tracks airbrushed to look grimy, street tracks, bridges, tunnels, vegetation, rocks, hillsides; and a city landscape so detailed there’s even a junkyard filled with at least a dozen miniature dented cars.
This model train extravaganza represents more than half a century of effort on the part of the Little Q Model Railroad Club, which was founded in 1958 and reflects an integral part of Aurora’s history revolving around the Burlington Northern train line.
But the club, say these train hobbyists, is in danger of getting derailed.
Since 1963, the club has been sponsored by the Fox Valley Park District, which allowed the Little Q to operate out of the Copley II Recreation Center at 517 N. Union St. But the old brick building, which also houses the Jesse “The Law” Torres Boxing Club, will be torn down soon because of structural issues. A new facility is being constructed next door; and when it is completed this spring, the boxing club will move into these new digs.
But Little Q members have been told there’s no room for their club; and despite repeated conversations with park district officials, “we’re being kicked out with no place else to go,” says Pirelli.
Laurie Hoffman, FVPD director of recreation and communication, insists the park district has given these rail enthusiasts ample warning they need to find a new home. She also said the park district is willing to help find that space, as well as continue coordinating train expos and open house events.
“We do want to have a relationship with them. There is a connection to the club,” she said, “especially through Blackberry Farm,” which has its own people-moving train that, it turns out, Griesmann also operates.
But times are changing. For one thing, Hoffman noted, the Little Q meetings, held on Thursdays and Saturdays beginning at 7 p.m., often go later than 10 p.m. which is after hours for the park district. Also, most of these hobbyists live outside the district, including Pirelli, who is a resident of Naperville. The Copley II Recreation Center, she noted, is designed as an outreach for that near East Side neighborhood.
Pirelli, who says his father and grandfather both worked for the railroad, formed an appreciation for trains “because I was always around them.” Griesmann is like most others of his gender: He became fascinated after getting that “first train set around the Christmas tree.”
The public is always invited to enjoy the display on Thursdays and Saturdays, where Little Q members also show videos, noted Pirelli, who has belonged to Little Q for 25 years. While he admits club membership has dropped over the years, he puts part of the blame on the fact the club has not been able to hold an open house in recent years because of the building’s structural issues.
And he’s convinced there’s “a new generation of young rail fans” waiting to be recruited “that would love to have a model railroad club in Aurora.”
“We will keep looking,” says Pirelli, who plans to approach the mayor’s office about finding space.
“Railroads really had so much to do with the history of Aurora. It would be a shame to see all this go away.”