Feeling like a giant

COMBERMERE – The sound of a train whistle is all too familiar to Klaas Staal, a man who has dedicated years to creating his own miniature world.

The Hyde’s Bay Model Train Station started out as a hobby, nothing more.
From there the tiny town filled with coal mines, lumber mills and ski hills transformed, and turned a mere hobby into something extraordinary.
“It was just privately, for myself, and it was quite a bit smaller, but then some of my neighbours they came over and they came to see it and they said ‘why don’t you open it up to the public’. So finally I did that, and it grew and grew,” Staal said.
It was 20 years ago that Staal opened his model train exhibit, first it was for nearby friends and family to cherish in the basement of his home in Combermere, but once it began to grow, he realized he was in need of some space.
Although he did not share his trains with the world until some time later on, it was in his younger years that his love for them planted itself in the back of his mind.
Growing up in Holland, Staal would often take the train to school, which is the reason he has such a passion for locomotives, he said.
“When I was a small boy I had a train, but it was a wind-up train, that was before the war,” he said. “I used to go to school by train in the winter time…that was normal… It was mostly trains.”
In 1968 he lived in the Toronto area with his family, and while living there he purchased an American Flyer model train set for his two sons, and together, they would build the set on their ping-pong table in the basement.
At the time, Staal owned a construction firm and was often working near train yards, where he could enjoy the familiar sounds of the nearby trains coming in and out of the station.
Staal and his family moved to the area in 1975, and he admits that he loves the quiet nature of the Madawaska Valley. However, the family no longer had the room for the model trains, and the hobby was set aside for the time being.
Even though he was forced to put aside his favourite past-time, Staal always found a way to pull together whatever it was he could find and stow it away for later.
“In the meantime when I saw something in the stores, hobby store, that I could use, I bought it,” he said. “It sat in the closet for 30 years, and when I retired from what we were doing…then I started on the trains.”
Taking the pieces of his 30-year-old puzzle he began to work, and turned what would seem like mere plastic into something beautiful.
The museum is open for the public during summer months, from July straight through to the May long weekend, and can be opened for small groups by appointment throughout the other seasons.
With a small fee of four dollars per person, you can easily walk into the room feeling like a giant.
The small buildings have been personally constructed by Staal, and the people hand painted.
Lights scatter the ceiling, replicating a twinkling night sky.
In the upcoming months Staal and a volunteer at the museum, Dave Beaulieu, will be piecing together an army base, which will represent Petawawa.
Story continues in the January 9, 2013 issue of The Valley Gazette.