With dozens of buildings and hundreds of trains, he’s built a city, modeled after places he’s lived and others he’s imagined.
It’s an escape for him, a project with limitless potential for him to tinker with whenever he needs a break from real life.
“I come down here, and it’s like time stops – it’s just me, the tools, and the trains,” he says.
The set up
Wooden platforms holding the city and suburbs that make up his model world are set out over shelving to hold the pieces that haven’t yet been added, along with paints, wires, tracks and tools.
Howard walks around and explains the various components that make a model train work.
Control panels, electronics, and creativity are just three key components to creating a world such as his.
Some buildings and trains are ordered pre-constructed, while others require set up. These are where the real artistry comes in, according to Howard.
“I normally spend 12 to 14 hours painting a single train car,” he says.
“I can’t even count the total hours I’ve spent on everything down here.
Special finishes, like rusty cars with graffiti displayed in his recreation of Mike’s Salvage in Marshalltown, may take more time but are always worth it, says Howard.
“It’s not just about the trains. It’s also about the buildings, the landscapes. All of it creates something together,” he says.
Sharing what he’s built
Whether it be customers visiting his wife Debra’s quilt and fabric shop upstairs or his grandkids who visit, Howard is always eager to share the world he’s built.
“My grandkids absolutely love it down here. It’s really great to be able to share this with them,” says Howard.
Howard also meets with several other model train enthusiasts in the area, all of whom use the same digitized track system so their trains are compatible and interchangeable, and they’re able to test out different gadgets at each others’ houses.
“We’re just overgrown kids – that’s what we are,” he says.
Engineering a vision
Howard points to his train set up like it’s nothing at all.
“This one isn’t really anything special. I’ve only been working on it for seven years,” he says.
His passion for trains has been a lifelong affair, beginning when he was young.
And now, as he’s physically grown up, he still feels like a young kid playing with trains for the first time.
Walking into his train room is like walking into a make-belief setting – with a level of detail that both overwhelms and transfixes the eye.
“I don’t even know how many trains I have. It’s really whatever you want to make it. You can spend as much or as little money as you want, and still create this,” he says.