Willamette View News

At Willamette View, Railroad Project is a Model of Community

At Willamette View, Railroad Project is a Model of Community

Over the past 18 months, downtown Milwaukie has been rebuilt in an otherwise ordinary hallway at Willamette View, the senior living community on River Road.

Dollhouse-scale models of City Hall, Dark Horse Comics and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, with its distinctive white spire, line the paved streets. Nearby is Milwaukie Lumber Company, where tiny men sort matchstick-size lumber into tiny stacks. Behind them are murals of Mt. Hood, Crown Point and Multnomah Falls—so crisp and detailed, they look like photographs.

Looping through it all, on two separate tracks, are the stars of the show: A sleek silver passenger train and a 10-car freight train that cross two bridges, traverse an elaborate wooden trestle, and blow their horns at the push of a button.

The new Willamette View Railroad came to life through the efforts of more than 100 residents, who constructed the framework in their woodworking and hobby shops, built 800-plus trees in the Artworks Studio, and wired the town and trains for streetlights and sound.

The project is but one example of the energy, talent and sense of community that define Willamette View. It’s a place where residents have organized more than 150 interest groups and activities to engage their creativity—and where anyone with an itch to get something done can find a way to make it happen.

In 2014, due to maintenance and repair issues, an existing model railroad was going to be removed. A call went out to the Willamette View community to gauge interest in rebuilding. Organizers aimed to raise $3,500 over two months.

“By the end of the first week, we had raised $8,500,” said Jim Edwards, executive director of Willamette View for 32 years and now a resident, who coordinated the railroad rebuilding project.

A new model railroad committee enlisted the help of Jim Reardon, a Milwaukie resident and Willamette View neighbor who is also a nationally recognized model-train consultant and designer. Reardon advised on the project and created the initial expanded design. Then, residents got to work.

They shaped the elaborate terrain with plaster and paper towels. They brought in their grandchildren—ages 4 and up—to help build the trees. John Murray, a resident and professional artist, painted the murals. Ken Bates, a former high school counselor and accomplished woodworker, helped with carpentry.

And on March 1, at an event to celebrate the railroad’s completion, they drove a ceremonial “Golden Spike” into the track. It marked the end of this resident-led project—and the inspiration for future creative collaborations.

To find out more about how you can be part of this creative senior community at Willamette View, call 503-654-6581. 

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