Claire and Don

After being named a AAA Midwest Travel Treasure in October of 2018, the Iron Spike Model Train Museum, Washington, began seeing an increase in attendance.  

“This has clearly been our best year,” Claire Saucier, co-founder, said. 

The museum’s busiest day was Dec. 29 with 151 visitors and the second busiest day was Dec. 22 with 147 visitors. 

“The last two months of the year accounted for 2,300 visitors,” Saucier said. “We attribute that to the AAA article because as soon as that article came out we went from 100 people a week to 300 people. You can look in our sign-in logs and they all reference (the article).” 

Saucier said the attendance increased 26.6 percent in 2018 compared to the year prior.

“We are quite a ways ahead of where I thought we’d be in two years,” Don Burhans, co-founder, said.  

The museum saw 6,357 visitors in 2018. 

“We’re on track to grow greatly in 2019,” Saucier said. 

The museum’s volunteer hours also increased in 2018.  There was a 15 percent increase with 12,600 hours logged. The museum has about 40 active volunteers.

“Some of the volunteers come once a week,” Burhans said, “others come five days a week.” 

Burhans said it depends on their retirement schedule. 

“Most of our volunteers are seniors,” Burhans said. 

Saucier added they’re interested in adding more younger volunteers to learn the skills needed to keep the hobby alive and to maintain the museum. 

New Exhibits

The museum added an exhibit in 2018 called “An Exhibit in Miniature.” 

The exhibit had been sitting in a basement since 1944. Joe Collias’ widow donated the exhibit to the museum in 2018. 

“In the last eight months we have been rebuilding it completely,” Burhans said.  

Collias was a railroad photographer from St. Louis. Saucier said he was a “scratch builder” meaning he would build from a picture. 

“So he would photograph buildings and then build the structure in the proper dimensions for it to be an HO scale model,” she said. 

The exhibit is on display throughout the front room and the museum’s workshop. Some of the items are for sale. 

One of the items is an HO-scale coal dock that Collias built in the 1950s. It will be raffled off for a $5 chance. Saucier said the piece is worth roughly $600. The winner will be drawn Feb. 9, during the Iron Spike Dinner Auction. 

Another new exhibit is Lego trains. It’s on display in the front room of the museum. 

“One of our board members donated Legos and Lego Trains to support the museum,” Burhans said. 

Burhans added they will be selling some of the Legos, while others will be left as exhibits for children. 

Looking Forward

Right now, Saucier said they’re working on stabilizing what they already have. 

“It takes quite a bit of time to service and maintain the layouts that we have,” she said. 

Saucier said they’re planning on hosting another train show at the city auditorium to celebrate their anniversary in late April or early May. 

They’re also open to the possibility of hosting car shows. However, their big goal is to install air conditioning. 

“We’ve gone two summers without air conditioning in the back room, the main museum room,” Saucier said. 

They reached the $17,000 goal they set in 2018. Saucier thinks it’s going to take about $30,000 to purchase the air conditioning unit. 

Saucier is hopeful the dinner auction in February will help them reach their goal so they can have air conditioning for the summer. 

Another goal they’re working on is finding a visitor from North Dakota. 

They’ve had visitors from 49 states, but not a single one from North Dakota. 

“I’m not convinced anybody even lives there,” Saucier said. 

The museum, located at 1498 High St., is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Fridays from 1-6 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. and is closed Mondays and Wednesdays.