Model rail auction in Harriston big event for ‘Boomer’ crowd

By Willa Wick in Community, Motors, Places, Events, & History

Going, Going, gone … and the successful bidder had acquired a prized piece of railroad paraphernalia during the recent auction at the Harriston Community Centre. But this was no ordinary auction. It was a gathering of “Boomers”, model railroad enthusiasts whose western Ontario group extends from Cambridge to Wiarton.
The auction has been taking place annually for over 50 years. At first it rotated locations until, about 25 years ago, Dr. Carol Homuth made arrangements for it to be held in Harriston … and it’s been there ever since. The event isn’t promoted locally, because the event attracts only railroad buffs. Flyers and email messages circulate among the various provincial clubs. Those in the trade are well aware that the last Saturday in October is always Harriston’s show, the best known model railroad auction in Ontario.
Auction day is extremely well orchestrated. Viewing is from 8 a.m. till 10 a.m., then the room is cleared and the committee sets up chairs and ensures a good supply of coffee, sandwiches and donuts. Ten minutes later the auctioneer takes the podium in front of a full house. Two auctioneers (members) have been sharing the duties throughout the day for many years – Gord Baverstock of Owen Sound and Harold Johnson from Huntsville.
This is a fast-paced auction. Bidding is quick and there’s no cajoling for the first bid, it’s on the floor almost immediately. Everyone knows the value, and each one knows what he’s prepared to pay. When the gavel drops a runner delivers the item, and cash is paid on the spot. There are no cheques or plastic.
Every hour or so there’s a 10-minute break for a stretch, additional viewing or refreshments. Reserve bids are allowed – one particular brass engine started at the reserve of $125 and ended just under $200. A small percentage of the purchase price goes into the club’s treasury and the remainder belongs to the individual seller.
Like all professions and hobbies, there is a jargon specific to insiders. From snatches of conversation you pick up HO, S-gauge, TT, N Gauge, Z gauge etc.HO models are the most common; this is 1/87 scale (1/8” – 1 ft.). Every time a hobbyist wishes to change sizes he must, of course, acquire new track as well as engines and cars. The majority of the rolling stock is electric (battery operated is mostly for kids play sets). Railroaders take their hobby very seriously. Often layouts take years to complete using scenery, bridges, miniature buildings, trees etc. Most layouts are products of the imagination, but some are based on actual towns, shops, bridges and houses. Many, like Dr. Homuth of Harriston, are able to construct their own buildings. Some hobbyists like to build structures, forests and other miniatures for sale – hence the beauty of the auction. Not many are skilled in the art of realistic tree making so clumps of trees and forests are usually pricey.
At first glance it’s mainly a senior crowd – but why not, they grew up in the days when daily train runs were commonplace. Fortunately some have been able to inspire a next generation of sons or grand children, and happy is the gent who can pass his knowledge on to a family member.
The auction is a great place for a newcomer to start collecting. A number of articles might be from estates while others are just someone’s surplus.
There are many manufacturers with Lionel, Bachman and Atlas being among the long-standing favorites. Brass engines are the oldest and they’re “the” thing to collect. The decision has to be made whether to accumulate steam or diesel. At one time the collector had to do all the detailing himself. Now things are made so perfectly that all you have to do is set the cars on the track.
For anyone interested in searching out the possibility of a new hobby there are several model railroad clubs throughout Ontario, plus books and magazines, and of course the internet, to get you started.
But whatever you do – remember, it’s not a railway set ….it’s a “Layout”.

Harold Johnson waits for another bid while two runners gather payment. Willa Wick photo

Harold Johnson waits for another bid while two runners gather payment. Willa Wick photo


A model railroad layout can take years to complete and can fill a good-sized recreation room. Willa Wick photo

A model railroad layout can take years to
complete and can fill a good-sized recreation room.
Willa Wick photo