Model train club at Roseville fairground left without a home as $34M sports complex moves in

As the Sacramento region’s largest indoor sports complex rises at the Placer County fairground, a model train club long based at the center of the grounds will have to move by the end of the year.

The Roseville Roundhouse Railroad Club, an association of model train enthusiasts, has occupied a small room at the fairground for the past 12 years. Open to the public twice a week and at county fairs, the room features 30-feet-long models of railroad tracks, natural scenery, and architecture that the club’s members have carefully crafted by hand.

Keith Waddell, president of the club, said its lease officially ends in August, but the landlord, Placer Valley Sports Complex, has verbally agreed to let it stay through the end of 2019. The landlord wants to keep the center of the grounds available for event organizers to rent out as the sports complex opens tentatively in February of next year.

The landlord’s decision to not renew the club’s lease has left its members anxious to find a new home. The decision also means the club will have to part ways with the models that don’t fit through the doors — ones that, featuring details such as a homeless person’s makeshift tent under a bridge and houses with removable roofs, reflect over a decade of craftsmanship.

“At the end of the day, we’re probably going to have take a chainsaw and hack (the models) up and throw them in a dumpster,” Waddell said.

Since management of the fairground shifted into the hands of Placer Valley Sports Complex in July 2017, the grounds have undergone major renovations and branding changes. The name has changed from “Placer County Fairgrounds” to “@the Grounds.”

The latest project by the landlord is the 160,000-square-foot indoor sports complex that will cost $34 million to build, funded by the county and Placer Valley Tourism.

David Attaway, CEO of Placer Valley Sports Complex and Placer Valley Tourism, said the club can no longer stay in its current room, because requests for usage of the center of the grounds “will go up dramatically” with the sports complex coming in. Attaway said the groups on the periphery won’t have to move.

“We hate to see (the club) go,” Attaway said. “Unfortunately, it’s at a point where it doesn’t work for the site and we can’t find a space for them.”

Waddell said he will ask the landlord whether it would allow the club to construct a new building at the periphery, which he believes it can afford through fundraising. In the meantime, he said, members will be searching for a new home.

Bob Fricker, 78, who’s been a member for 18 years, said he’s “disappointed” with having to move.

“I thought we’d have more support from the grounds, since we do open (the club) up to kids and classrooms,” Fricker said.

Gary Soler, 73, has been with the club for 12 years. He said the move “is a kick in the pants more or less, to be nice about it.”

“They say we don’t fit into their idea of what the fairgrounds should be like,” Soler said. “To me, fairgrounds means community, and the grounds should more or less look out for the community”– which he believes the club does by welcoming families.

While Soler is frustrated with having to move, he said he doesn’t feel too sad about having to tear down the models.

“Taking them down is not a big deal,” he said. “It’s a chance to go back and undo the mistakes we made the first time.”

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Elaine Chen, from the University of Chicago, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in the Bay Area and later in Beijing, China.