With freight trains frequently roaring through a nearby track, it's appropriate that Rail's Inn Depot would have a model train set.
For years, patrons would stop by and marvel at the train as they enjoyed camaraderie with their beer at the tavern at 2222 E. St. Francis Ave., in the city's old railroad depot area.
Everything changed one fateful evening in 2003, however, when the model train was derailed. Rail's Inn was quiet for four years without the semi-frequent blaring of a "choo-choo" sound.
"One night, someone ran it too fast, it fell off the track and it ruined the engine," said Ron Cook, who owns the tavern. "It was also getting real old."
The set was as old as Rail's Inn - 20 years. Cook, a train enthusiast, helped set it up with the tavern's previous owners.
Chugging along bit by bit
A variety of factors, including customer demand, led to the revival of the train in mid-February. A party was held on the night of its inaugural run.
"People were real glad to see it running again," Cook said.
Cook's fiancée, Gina Gerlach, had a role in putting life back into the train set.
"We're going to be getting married in May," Gerlach said. "My grandson loves trains, so he'll get to see it when he's here for the wedding."
Refurbishing the train took some blood, sweat and tears, said Cook, who now proudly wanders through Rail's Inn sporting a conductor's hat.
Cook credits Rail's Inn bartender Bill Mommaerts with restoring much of the train.
"We had to buy a new engine, replace the transformer, and we rewired the whole thing," Cook said.
The refurbishing also involved taking the track apart and cleaning it. The result, Cook said, is a set that runs faster and more smoothly than ever before.
Tooting horn once again
The track, which circles above a large portion of the main bar area, is referred to as a G Scale model. In the realm of model railroading, it is one of the larger sizes available.
Rail's Inn features train décor throughout much of the facility. Several stop-and-go lights are around the seating area, and the tracks have a house that closely resembles the bar's exterior.
Many of the individual model trains within the set carry the Union Pacific insignia, which is a fitting nod to the many real trains with that name that roll on by each day, Cook said.
Today, the "choo-choo" sound is back at Rail's Inn, and Cook said he will gladly run the set around the track by request.
Gerlach said she has enjoyed witnessing the enthusiasm Cook has displayed since the train's grand re-entrance.
"He was so excited about getting it started again," she said.
Contact reporter Dave Fidlin at (262) 317-8537 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY THE NUMBERS
cost to refurbish model train set
years Rail's Inn Depot has been open
years Ron Cook has owned
Rail's Inn Depot
pieces to model train set
years since train had worked
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