From his store in downtown Roseburg, and with the help of a local club of enthusiasts, Lachlan MacKinnon is introducing as many people as he can to the hobby of model railroading.
Story by Josh Gaunt, Photos by Kevin Eckerman
The storefront on Southeast Cass Avenue in Roseburg has a small overhead sign that reads simply “Trains.”
Welcome to Mac’s Tracks, since 2007 the headquarters for model railroaders in the Umpqua Valley and beyond. Enter at the risk of reawakening your creativity, imagination and more than a little nostalgia.
Founded and run by Lachlan MacKinnon, Mac’s Tracks caters to everyone from the greenest gandy dancer to expert yardmasters — selling track, locomotives, rolling stock and accessories for all gauges of model trains.
MacKinnon is an authorized dealer for many manufacturers of train equipment, and if he doesn’t have an item in stock, he knows where to find it.
But MacKinnon isn’t only a merchant of model railroads. He’s also an ambassador for the hobby, which was once wildly popular in the U.S. but has become more of a niche pastime.
“I wanted to encourage people in the hobby of model railroading,” MacKinnon says.
A few blocks from his store, in the basement of a downtown Roseburg law office, is a miniature world of its own, the main layout of the Umpqua Valley Model Railroad Club — a breath-taking assembly of operational, scale-model freight yards, passenger depots, mountains, tunnels, bridges, trestles, crossing signals, buildings and cityscapes that evokes the days when the Southern Pacific regularly rumbled through Roseburg.
Elaborately wired and with computerized controls, the layout is a web of track loops, switches and grades — meticulously built to look like the real thing, right down to the weathered-looking paint on buildings and the ballast on the tracks.
Traversing through is the assembled trains of club members — freight and passenger lines.
“We play like we’re running a real railroad,” MacKinnon says.
Because many members of the club don’t have room for a layout in their homes, the office basement offers them the chance to work on their hobby and run their trains.
The Umpqua Valley club meets regularly, and members also take part in model railroad shows, demonstrating their hobby and encouraging others to take it up.
“THE BENEFITS OF A HOBBY CAN TEACH YOUR CHILDREN CREATIVITY AND HELP THEM FIND ENJOYMENT FROM PLAYING ON THEIR OWN, INSTEAD OF A COMPUTER.”
– Lachlan MacKinnon
A native of Alaska, MacKinnon got the train bug as a toddler playing with his older brothers’ trains at home. He got his own set at age 12 and joined a local model railroad club in Juneau.
But as he got older, he lost interest and put his trains in storage for more than three decades. His interest revived, however, when he decided he needed a respite from job-related stress. He rejoined the club and, in 1991, started selling model railroading gear out of his home.
A decade ago, when he moved to Roseburg for family reasons, he took the train business with him.
“I was totally surprised by how friendly people were here,” he says. “It was kind of a cultural shock.”
The business quickly outgrew MacKinnon’s home, so in 2008 he moved into the Cass Avenue location.
There, under that “Trains” sign, he promotes the hobby while selling all things model railroad-related — even Thomas the Tank Engine sets for younger engineers. Today, Mac’s Tracks carries the largest model-train inventory in Southern Oregon. Most of MacKinnon’s customers are new to the hobby. Some are over 60, but he has younger enthusiasts as well. All are encouraged to join the train club, whose members share their expertise and where beginners can learn layout skills from experienced hobbyists.
“The benefits of a hobby can teach your children creativity and help them learn to find enjoyment from playing on their own, instead of a computer,” MacKinnon says. “You can basically recreate the world that you live in, in miniature. Model railroading can be a hobby best enjoyed when the family and friends work together to build a layout and operate the trains.”