Southern Nevada N-Trakers take train hobby seriously

Maybe you remember those days of yesteryear when kids played with trains. And if the locomotives, cars and railroad tracks were made by the Lionel Corp., they could proudly boast that they owned the hallmark of all model trains.

Sadly, Lionel trains have gone in the wrong direction since their heyday more than 60 years ago. But many of those kids who played with them haven’t. They’ve grown into adults who are heavily into an avocation that has matured into something called N-Trakers.

And in Southern Nevada they’re not only big, they’re a lot more sophisticated. The Southern Nevada N-Trakers, or SNNT, is such a group. Their interest is not just model engines and rail cars that often sell for hundreds of dollars. It’s a lot more complex, such as the gauge of the tracks, the voltage and the height and types of couplers that are used to connect rail cars and engines into a fully operating model train.

“These engines are radio-controlled by remote throttles so that multiple engines can operate on the same track,” explained Dick Edmister of Sun City Summerlin, a member of SNNT. Edmister, a retired lawyer who once practiced international engineering and construction law, has been into N-Traking for three years.

“I’ve become totally fascinated by the club and what we do,” Edmister said.

So much so that he has accumulated some 200 model railroad cars and 30 engines.

But sophisticated model trains aren’t the only concern of SNNT members. Participants are into the design and construction of modules, just as are similar N-Trakers throughout the U.S. and in many other countries of Europe and Asia. The modules are self-contained units that, when interconnected with similar objects owned by others, can form a grand model of a landscape or a scaled-down version of a community, a business center or any other creative innovation.

According to universal N-Traker rules, the standard module is 2 feet wide, 4 feet long and 40 inches high. The design and precision construction of modules, all of which include model trains and tracks, are part of the lure for SNNT members, Edmister noted.

“I designed and built my own module,” he said. “And it was a rewarding experience.”

Edmister proudly displayed his module, which consists of a Southwestern scene. It contains tracks for his model trains and is wired for operation. “It was built to conform with the standards so that it can easily be connected to other modules,” he said.

“I took many pictures of desert scenes, then spent several months designing and building my own idea of a landscape. The module was made of scenic materials such as cactus and other foliage, which was purchased at a hobby shop, and “insulated foam, wood, desert stones, sand and house paint.”

Edmister, who is the events chairman of SNNT, helped create an N-Trak show in Sun City just before Christmas 2011. The display consisted of scores of modules and trains.

“It took up the better part of the main ballroom in Desert Vista Community Center,” he said. “I’m hoping to do it again in the not too distant future.”

Perhaps the mother of N-Trak shows was presented at the Town and Country Hotel Convention Center in San Diego four years ago, explained Joe Dorner, treasurer of SNNT. “There were about 2,000 modules, from all over the country and from other countries, and there were hundreds of trains, all of which made for one huge model.

“It was so big that it took about two hours for a single train to run through all the loops in the entire building,” he added. “At a minimum, we need an area of 40 feet by 60 feet to do a show.”

The first N-Trak modules to be assembled into a model train show in the U.S. were displayed in Costa Mesa, Calif., in 1973. Since then, the popularity of N-Trak clubs has spread rapidly across the country.

Dorner, a computer programmer who lives in Spring Valley, has been a member of SNNT for eight years.

“The hobby is fun for me. It takes my mind off work,” he said. “Some people like to bowl. Some like tennis or golf. I like trains.”

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His newest novel, “All For Nothing,” is now available. Contact him at

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