The sound of model trains chugging along the tracks will soon fall silent at the Bolado Park Fairgrounds. After about 18 years, the San Juan Pacific Model Railroad club’s lease will not be renewed, and the club will vacate its current home in building No. 3 by the end of summer.
“In the lease language there’s always been an option for the fair to give us notice,” said John Feltman with the SJPMRR. “We never anticipated it coming, but it was always a possibility.”
The reason for the notice, according to Donnette Silva-Carter, fair manager and CEO, has to do with upcoming changes and upgrades to the grounds.
“We need to utilize space,” she said. “Some buildings will be coming down to add more parking. Parking is at a premium.”
Silva-Carter said the fine arts building and other structures will be demolished, meaning displays in those buildings need to be moved. She added that the SJPMRR club is really the fairgrounds only “tenant,” and rents space at a nominal cost.
“Sometimes decisions have to be made,” she said. “They’re a great group of nice people and were very gentlemanly about it.”
The club, which has 10 active members, is in search of a new home and has reached out to the San Benito County Historical Park, which Silva-Carter said was suggested to them.
“There was some talk about taking it to the historical site grounds, but it’s looking like that probably isn’t going to work,” Feltman said. “They’re not against us being there, but they have limited resources and space. Most are dirt floors and with no electricity in all the buildings. It wouldn’t be ideal.”
There are other options as well. Feltman said one club member is looking into a building in Tres Pinos, and a couple other buildings in Hollister have been suggested, including one at the airport. He said that though nothing is planned yet, club members are exploring all options.
A big issue Feltman anticipates is losing a large portion of the current display.
“The layout as it exists now, at least half of it will be gone,” he said. “The older layout of our HO scale is going to be torn down, as will a bunch of the N scale. They’re just not mobile. But we started building a new section in the last five years and we built it so it would come apart in pieces.”
Feltman said that the mobile pieces can potentially be stored in members’ garages until a new home is found and the layout can be put back together.
“There just aren’t too many weekends left to disassemble it and salvage what we can,” he said. “A lot of heart and soul and money and time have gone into it over the years and unfortunately it’s not all moveable.”
Feltman said the older portion of the layout is built against some of the building’s support posts, with scenery and painted areas. He said they can attempt to cut the layout into pieces, but doesn’t anticipate much success.
“We could try a Sawzall, but it doesn’t come apart very easily and we’d probably end up destroying some of the scenery,” Feltman said.
He added that the club plans one last hurrah for all members to enjoy the spot a final time.
“This coming Saturday (May 2) is probably our last run, where we still have everything up and running,” he said. “I think we’re going to get club members down there to just have fun and enjoy it.”
The following Saturday, he said members will likely begin dismantling the layout and electronic components, and attempting to save some scenery elements, including 100 or so HO scale buildings.
According to Feltman, club members have discussed perhaps creating modular setups for temporary displays.
“Nothing is in place yet, but everyone could design a piece in their garage and it would hook together,” he said. “If anytime in the future we could come down and set up for a Saturday at the fairgrounds, we’d love it.”
Though no plans have been made for such, Silva-Carter said it was a great idea.
“Actually that would be fantastic,” she said. “We’d be open to it for the fair the entire time and then other activities.”
Regardless of where the SJPMRR club and its layouts eventually end up, Feltman said there’s no animosity between the club and the fairgrounds—the place it called home for 18 years.
“We just want to keep everything on good terms,” he said. “As disappointed as we are, we want to maintain a good relationship with them.”