SMALL TOWNS: A model train masterpiece

After an injury left him with plenty of free time, Jim Kuik got a lot more serious about his lifelong hobby and passion
Updated: Jul. 28, 2022 at 6:10 PM CDT
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BRANDON, Wis. (WBAY) - Watching trains go by as a young boy inspired a life-long hobby for a Fond du Lac County man.

Later in life, he spent nearly four decades creating a massive model train layout.

This week in Small Towns, we travel to Brandon to see Jim Kuik’s masterpiece.

Jim’s eyes light up when he’s at the controls and his HO scale model trains are in motion.

“What do you think when you see them moving around? Oh, they’re something else,” responds Kuik.

Jim’s fascination with trains date back to his childhood.

“Went to Sunday School and bible class and then we had to run up to the train, it was about two blocks away, and we would put pennies on the rail and they’d squeeze them out,” recalls Jim with a chuckle.

After growing up in Waupun, Jim opened an auto body shop in Brandon in 1971.

At the age of 46, an accident severely damaged a nerve in his shoulder and left him disabled.

“Then I had to quit the shop and they can’t fix it,” explains Jim.

Jim suddenly had a lot of time on his hands.

“I got sitting around, I had to do something, and then I started carving, and then I started working on my train a bit,” says Jim.

Working on his trains a bit?

A lot more than that.

“This is about 35 years,” says Jim with a smile.

After he got married in 1953, Jim shared his love for trains with his three young sons, and they built some small layouts.

But it wasn’t until after his injury that Jim got serious.

“I just kept going,” says Jim.

Taking ideas from different model train magazines and books, Jim started building his own unique creation.

The result, a massive 10-foot by 24-foot layout that runs multiple trains through just about any urban and rural landscape you’ll find in this country.

“You take a look at the stuff he’s put together, I mean it’s just, I don’t think there’s been maybe one or two buildings on here that were built the way it was supposed to be built, they’re either all scratch built or kit-bashed and kit-bash is where you take two or three kits and bring them together, so that or he had one kit and he’d done a custom part of it, he did something to everything,” says Randy Kuik, Jim’s son.

Seven-hundred-and-sixty-five handmade trees are part of Jim’s display, and there are 845 tiny people.

“They all come bare naked and then I paint them, and painted them all,” explains Jim.

As for the amount of time or money Jim has poured into his passion, he’s never kept much track.

But he knows his hobby is getting more expensive.

“These I got for, that Wisconsin Southern, I was getting for 100 bucks a piece, I got a dozen of them, but now the price is going up on them, pretty hard to get,” says Jim.

Over the years, Jim says his family has supported his train obsession every step of the way.

“They loved it, they loved it, I did a lot of fishing but that they didn’t like because I stayed out there too long,” says Jim, breaking out in laughter.

And about those carvings, which include eagles, waterfowl and songbirds, they are simply stunning.

“I don’t mean to toot his horn, but I’m pretty proud of him,” says Randy of his dad.

It’s another rare gift.

“And he’s got it, he does,” says Randy.

“Creating stuff, out of nothing,” adds Jim.

Which sums up his greatest joy and talent, and he isn’t done yet.

While Jim’s display may never be completely done, at 85, he knows he won’t continue working on it forever.

His hope is it one day finds a home for the public to enjoy.

Have an idea for a Small Towns? Email smalltowns@wbay.com

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This is more than just a simple hobby

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