All aboard for an up-close look at the Grossmont Central Railroad! This spectacular, one-of-a-kind model train display has been delighting visitors of all ages since it debuted at Grossmont Center in 2015.
“We are the only interactive, public model railroad display in East County,” says Mike Forys, president of the San Diego S-Gaugers Model Train Club. The club operates and maintains the railroad with a passion. “We give people an interesting diversion while they are shopping and a way to get their children to go shopping with them. We love telling the background story behind each scene to give visitors the practical and historical information of railroads.”
This amazing model train display originally came to the Center as a special attraction for the 2015 holiday season. However, it was so incredibly popular that the Center and the club agreed to make it a year-round fixture. Now, from noon to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Saturdays, visitors can chat with the knowledgeable and passionate model train enthusiasts from the club while admiring the meticulously designed railroads. Kids (and kids at heart!) can even be part of the fun, thanks to interactive buttons that operate different parts of the display. Guests can toot the train whistles, unload packages, and even launch rockets!
The Grossmont Central Railroad display features four operational train layouts, with a fifth one in the works. Upon entering, guests see a large and impressive modular layout boasting a girder bridge and an intricately crafted military air museum. The attention to detail is so thorough that the aircraft on display at the model military air museum are changed out each month. Interiors are lit in the model buildings, superheroes and dinosaurs roam freely among the layout, and the scenes are realistically enhanced with figures of people, furniture, cars, and equipment. Enthusiastic club members are always working on projects to make the layout even more special, such as adding tiny animal figures to stock cars and customizing toy trucks in the scene with the club’s logo. The club is also working hard on its narrow-gauge lumber mill layout, which will be unveiled soon.
There are also three train scenes in the storefront windows that give Grossmont Center visitors a taste of the wonders inside. One of the layouts is named Liberty Loop, in honor of San Diego’s Liberty Station, and the highlight is a tunnel carved out of a rocky mountain. The second layout is built around charming village scenes that are each specially tailored to the Halloween, Christmas, and Easter seasons. During the rest of the year, this layout changes to feature a classic 1950s-era American Flyer railroad, which highlights the club’s S-gauge roots. The final window display is an ingenious Lego train scene provided by the L-Scale Museum that is sure to impress Lego fans of all ages. One of the most popular parts of these window scenes: A button on the outside of the storefront that allows people to activate the trains any time, day or night, during normal Center hours!
Admission to the Grossmont Central Railroad is free. For club members, it is a labor of love that gives them the satisfaction of “greeting the shoppers and providing them with a unique experience,” Forys says. Like many of our “shop local” tenants, the Grossmont Central Railroad offers something distinctive that cannot be found at a run-of-the-mill mall.
That special experience also includes community events. “We host an annual open house to the local model railroading community,” Forys says. “And four times a year, we host a Lego build event in the Center just outside of the model train display.”
The club members welcome everyone to visit the railroad and share in their love of model trains. Engaging club members take the time to show visitors how the layouts work and discuss different types of model trains. They especially enjoy talking with children, who are enthralled with the sheer magnitude of the railroad and all its moving parts. Stepstools are provided so smaller kids can get the best eye-level view of the layouts, as club members point out a detail on a locomotive or which button to push to sound a clanging bell. Model train aficionados are also encouraged to join the club so they can work on the railroad layouts and greet visitors.
The Grossmont Central Railroad offers a friendly atmosphere and a singular experience—it turns what would be an ordinary shopping trip at any other mall into something extraordinary at Grossmont Center. By offering a home to exceptional tenants and the opportunity for customers to buy local, the Center has created a special place in the La Mesa community. With its exciting collection of shops, restaurants, service providers, and entertainment venues, Grossmont Center makes your next stop a fun one!
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