Most Viewed Stories
Colusa man building a railroad
Many people have helped the Rev. Walt Schedler develop his 1955 Southern Pacific Railroad model, and none more than Dr. Mike Andrews of Yuba City. The list also includes Harley Worthington of Yuba City; Don Warmuth of Yuba City; Darrol Wilson, formerly of Colusa; Jim Firehock of Sacramento; Dave Haehn of Sacramento; Dave Clemens of Roseville; Gary Ray of Magalia; Klaus Kiel of Paradise; Mike Ferraiuolo of Colusa; and Ed Zeis of Sacramento.
Trains have had a magical pull on Walt Schedler from an early age.
He would watch them from his home in Withee, Wisc., and spent many Saturdays at the local depot, waiting as the depot agent, Mr. McMiller, watched for the signal light to turn on for an approaching train.
By the time Schedler got his first Lionel Train set when he was 12 or 13, he was already passionate about the iconic American railroad.
McMiller, who was also the Western Union agent, played the organ at the church where Schedler's father was the minister.
"And his six brothers were all LCMS (Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod) pastors, too," Schedler said of his father.
Schedler would eventually follow the calling, attending the seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1985, a road that would lead him to Colusa.
But that was after he had retired as and aerospace engineer.
"I developed satellite control programs for synchronous orbits," Schedler explained.
In short, the weather satellites he worked on were set at specific distances from Earth so that their mass and speed would allow them to stay in a fixed point in the orbit.
His primary ministry would be in Cupertino.
When he retired, he moved to Colusa, only to be called back to service as a vacancy pastor at the local Bethlehem Lutheran Church.
"I said I would fill in for two or three months," said Schedler, 72, who completed a three-year run at the local church last June.
Along the way, he never lost his passion for trains.
In fact, in 1967 he developed the first sound system for model train enthusiasts like himself, from which he built a business and sold just before going to the seminary.
"I said if I was going to build my railroad, I wanted sound," he said.
And build a railroad, he has — well, almost.
Schedler and his assortment of helpers, a list topped by his wife, Carolyn, have been laboring to develop a perfectly scaled museum-quality version of the Southern Pacific tracks from Gerber to Klamath Falls as set in 1955.
The town of Dunsmuir, and its rail yards, is the focal point of the model.
The precision is in the detail, right down to a tiny water hose at the side of a building.
And it is that detail that attracts the Rev. Schedler — from his days as an engineer to his artistic skills, which has also earned him some attention.
He was recognized for this skills at his high school in Clintonville, Wisc.
"And I won an honorable mention in a New York high school art show," Schedler said with a bit of a wink and nod.
Even his train modeling has earned him competition ribbons.
Those skills are cleverly displayed on his model set, right down to the speckling of grass and gravel piles, to the exactness of the bridge construction and color to the tones of blue that will mark the deeper and shallow flows of the Sacramento River.
But that is the finish work on a project that actually started by building a room out of an attic space in the century-old Colusa house.
The 1,200-square-foot room complete, Schedler set forth at building his railroad.
He chose the Southern Pacific tracks from Gerber to Klamath Falls because his wife had grown up in the region, attending grammar school in Gerber.
Coincidentally, Schedler was reading a book, "Smoke in the Canyon," about a railroad engineer who lived in Dunsmuir.
The stars had aligned, just as his satellites had.
That Gerber school house is part of the model, built to specific scale, just like the whole of the piece.
Schedler used actual Southern Pacific drawings to be as precise as possible, working on what is known as the HO scale or 1/87th of the full size.
He then collected photos and other evidence of what the landscape, bridges, buildings and train engines and cars looked like. He added the detail of period vehicles and much, much more.
When completed, the journey will run over four levels and 12 scale miles.
"But we don't just run trains, we run a railroad," said Schedler.
He and other enthusiasts operate the model as though they are dispatchers, conductors and other critical members of the Southern Pacific Railroad.
They have exact travel orders — called track warrants — complete with the kind of cars that are used, where they are picked up and dropped off, and the trains run at a scaled speed to match that of the real thing.
It takes 16 people to run the full operation, which will be staged in different seasons at different points on the model.
His work has already been featured by the National Model Railroad Association, and will be again this summer.
Still, there is lots of work left to do, and Schedler is not sure when the last piece will be in place.
"People always ask me that, and I always tell them on a Tuesday," Schedler quips.
When that day comes, however, he will ask the Dunsmuir mayor to come down for his own kind of Golden Spike ceremony.
As if this is not enough, Schedler is also a certified dealer for Walthers trains, all under the business name of Walt's Trains and Electronics.
He sells them out of the Picket Fences Antique store on Market Street in Colusa, where another model is being built by Richard Hosmer.
"I do engine repairs, too," Schedler said.