Rick Slingerland gently plucks a fallen figurine lying face down in the sand of his railroad island and sits her on a beach log.
It’s all about the detail for this master of miniature, who can spend years casting characters and setting the stage for his railroad worlds.
The model train enthusiast has been practicing his hobby for 39 years and has won just about the same number of awards for his craft at train shows.
“They’ve stopped handing out awards because the same people keep winning them,” he said with a grin as he looked at a wood-paneled wall lined with plaques. “Wasn’t me.”
Slingerland can remember his first train. He might have been four or five years old, living in Ontario’s Niagara-on-the-Lake. It had a working engine but not enough strength to pull the engine behind it, he said.
After that, his love of trains was put on the slow track as life took over. As a teenager he worked as a cherry-picker on farms and as a cook at an army camp before joining the navy.
By the time he was 30, he enrolled in art school, something he’d always wanted to do. Trains became his niche market. He even took three cross-Canada trips by train, but it wasn’t until he went to England that he got all aboard the model train hobby.
They were in downtown London and saw a Fleischmann model railway exhibit in sections that put together, were probably bigger than his house, he said.
“I was blown away,” he said.
When he and his wife got back from his trip he started looking at where he could put a model railroad.
He’s since tackled a 16-year ‘desert’ scene project, now stacked in his garage, and is tackling a make-believe island with tiny Mallard ducks the size of a grain of rice, laser-cut ferns and a plantation. The train is wireless and the scene lights up with tiny micro LEDs, but it’s the kind of layout he’s preaching others use. It folds up and folds out in five minutes, an idea inspired by the crates of exhibits that come to the Nanaimo Museum, where he’s the exhibit curator.
People do layouts in their basements and can’t move them, and then they have a floor or have to move and what do they do with it? “They have to destroy it,” he said.
For Slingerland, the satisfaction comes when the glue dries.
“That it’s stuck for one thing, and just finding new ways to do things,” he said. “I like evolving this whole system of building a railroad.”