Because Punxsutawny Phil will probably be checking for his shadow in his hometown in Pennsylvania, Brookings residents will be depending on Thomas the Tank engine to determine the duration of winter.
Thomas will be pulling cars around the tracks at the Stout Mountain Railway Garden from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. today (Feb. 2), which is Groundhog Day, the day the rodent pokes his head out and, if he sees his shadow, predicts there will be six more weeks of winter.
"This is the earliest we've ever run the trains," said Tony Parrish, president of the Stout Mountain Railway Club. Usually the trains run in the gardens at Stout Park on Oak Street in the afternoon but club members thought that if the sun is too high in the sky, Thomas may not cast a very good shadow.
Thomas, Percy and other locomotives will be pulling trains around the approximately 300 feet of track at the garden.
The garden was created shortly after the creation of the club in 2007. Parrish and Herb Hedgpeth gave a presentation to improve the brush-covered stack at the northeast corner of the park and building a model railway garden. Bob Minshew came on board and donated a bunch of miniature buildings with the idea of leasing them to sponsors to raise funds to purchase track.
After receiving a nod from the city, work began.
"Herb and I did all the grunt work," Parrish said. "We basically unearthed the mountain."
The brush was removed and track was laid and a grand opening took place during the year's Azalea Festival. From that point on, model railroad enthusiast got together to find any excuse to run their trains. Most of the public displays took place on holidays, Parrish said. Among those holidays was Christmas.
The first Christmas, in 2009, the club ran their trains outside at the park, but the weather was uncooperative. That's when Minshew suggested setting up indoors. The following year, Holiday in Trainland was set up inside a vacant storefront on Chetco Avenue.
It was a success. Every year since, a Christmas display has been set up at the community room between Pharmacy Express and Shop Smart in the Brookings-Harbor Shopping Center.
Stout Mountain Railway continues to grow, not only at the garden, but now in an annualdisplay at the Curry County Fair, Parrish said.
As for the garden itself, more track is planned, more railroad cars shown and more sponsors sought to lease customized buildings, built by Mike Noonan. Also helping with the railway is Bob Marchand.
Among the new cars to be rolling on the track today will be for Relay for Life, Parrish said.