Trains are wonderfully tactile things - big, busy, blustering beasts that amiably follow the rails and work hard to make others happy. Their approach is announced with great noise, and their close passage rumbles the earth beneath your feet. You can’t ignore a train, especially if it’s moving.

Why then can we ignore and let others explain away the “fiscally responsible” elimination of the Napa Model Train Society at the fairgrounds? It occupies a 3,600-square-foot building on a property of 34 acres (1,481,040 square feet). Are we to understand, let alone accept, that less than .25 percent (one quarter of one percent) of all that space must be removed to fulfill a 10-15 year $65 million-dollar plan, and it must be done now?

The one small place on that entire property that has been open more days during the year (68) than fair days or days used by any single-use group now has to go away, with little notice and less sympathy, for the tremendously important reason that this .25 percent of the property must be turned into parking places based on a draft master plan? As if the rest of the property is fully booked or occupied so much that no parking places may be found in the other 99.75 percent of the property, or the draft plan might not be adapted, as it surely will for other reasons?

It truly boggles the mind. There’s something truly strange and wrong here, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. The ground is rumbling somewhere beneath us.

The fact that the Expo Board did not announce the consideration of the model railroad’s future in its July 25 meeting agenda, leaving out initial public debate or vote, may be tactically clever, but it is ethically irresponsible, even as an oversight. This move alone should easily trump any appeal to “fiscal responsibility.” If they were not aware of the stir that this would cause, then they were also out of touch with the community.

Saying that this is not “a reflection of our opinion on the value of model railroading or the club” is equally specious, when it clearly is, especially when you tell a community group with whom you have a 46-year-old history to move out quickly, because those parking spaces are a priority. And does bringing up that the grounds are owned by the state mean that the local community has little or no voice in what happens? Just be quiet, let us decide, and live with it?

As if this weren’t enough, the Expo Board says that this decision is an opportunity to recreate a model train layout in a high traffic location, as if this made the fact of their decision a helpful one. If the Expo Board really supported the idea of moving to a better location, they would at the very least have suggested and supported the club’s staying where it is until the newly planned hotel is built. As it is, there is no hope for an extension; the move must be immediate. Where’s the fire?

And indeed a small model train track could be created at the Napa Valley Wine Train location. However, even that is not a sure thing yet, and doing so would not allow for the Friday nights, the camaraderie, the open nights (“Paid customers only, please, inside the Wine Train Lobby”) or the sense of having a place, a home, a depot of your own. Is anyone surprised by the reasonable conclusion that it’s much better to have a sure thing that two unsure ones? A train on a track is worth two in the barn.

The unfortunate thing is that those who have built, invested in, supported, and attended what many Napa folks would simply call “The Quonset Hut” for several generations are either the dead, the retired, and the uninfluential, or home hobbyists, the wide-eyed young, and the politically powerless. And without even some sort of vote on this decision, these folks just remain that way, effectively powerless and marginalized by those who claim to know better.

The mission statement for the fairgrounds includes the phrase “cultivates recreational and educational opportunities for residents and visitors of all ages.” It would not be an overstatement to say that the Napa Model Train Society has been doing this quietly, consistently, generously, and transparently for 46 years, and literally for “visitors of all ages.”

Their long-term personal investment and ongoing unique efforts in realizing these goals of the fairgrounds should be folded into the masterplan, such that they are part of that planning train – and a really distinctive part – instead of an old caboose that is discarded like an elderly parent to a retirement home.

George Van Grieken

Napa

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