Drive through the especially curvy, bendy section of Big Bend Blvd. in Webster Groves just west of Elm and you’ll pass an unassuming railroad terminal. The Webster Groves depot opened for business in 1910. Passenger service to the depot stopped in 1968, although passenger and freight trains still run along the tracks outside the station.
What makes the building truly unique is what is inside the depot. Since 1938, the building has been home to the Big Bend Railroad Club. Step inside and you’ll see an amazing layout—a dream come true for any model railroad enthusiast.
Winding through the former waiting room is a 60-foot-long O-scale 2-rail model railroad. It’s similar to the Lionel O-scale, but Lionel trains use a center rail for power and run on AC voltage. The trains at the Big Bend Railroad Club use DC voltage and run on scale track.
The entire layout covers 800 feet of mainline track. Four trains and two yard operations can run simultaneously. The design is known as point-to-point. That means a train will run from one defined location to another. That is a bit different from the loop design you’ll see in many basement setups.
The Big Bend Railroad Club’s train layout also includes two major terminals. They are the Springfield and the Ozark, with an intermediate stop. This mirrors the actual Springfield and Ozark terminals that once were key stops along the Springfield & Southern Railway.
You can view the vintage model trains running at the old Webster Groves depot at 8833 Big Bend Blvd. from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month. There’s no set fee to enter, but a door donation helps defray operating costs. The depot is open every Tuesday night for maintenance, but the trains don’t run those nights.
On any given Tuesday evening, you’re likely to see members of the club checking track, making sure cars are operating correctly and generally having a good time.
Club secretary and unofficial historian Ken Rimmel said even though the Big Bend Railroad Club isn’t the oldest in the U.S., the Webster Groves location was their first and only home.
“Within a few years of our starting, a friend of a father of our first club president worked for the Frisco Railroad, and on a handshake deal we’ve been here ever since,” Rimmel said.
It was originally called the Model Railroad Club of Webster Groves, but changed to Big Bend Railroad Club after moving into the depot. In 1950, the club became a non-profit organization.
The building itself is a relic of a bygone era, and it very nearly disappeared in 1994. That’s when the Frisco Railroad and its successor, Burlington Northern Railroad, no longer had a signal maintenance facility in the east half of the building. It also meant a wrecking ball had its sights on the depot. The Big Bend Railroad Club purchased the building from the railroad and obtained a long-term lease on the land.
In the process, the club ensured a vintage model railroad would continue to chug around the track inside an old rail terminal for years to come.
For more information about the Big Bend Railroad Club, visit their website at www.bigbendrrclub.org.