The Columbia Gorge Model Railroad Club
2505 N Vancouver, Nov. 27-28, 10 am-5 pm

Hyperbole is an easy trap to lapse into when waxing enthusiastic, but it's no exaggeration to claim that the members of the Columbia Gorge Model Railroad Club have created the greatest installation in town, if not the entire Northwest. It helps that the club formed 56 years ago, gathers weekly to fine-tune and perfect their vision, and are primarily creating for a subculture of their own peers. Their project is a 4200-square-foot navigable diorama of the Portland rail lines between Wishram, Washington, Portland, and Bend. It is a painstakingly minute microcosm of rivers, towns, volcanoes, circuses, drive-in theaters, mineshafts, churches, and lumberyards. The very embodiment of whimsy, the world-within-a-room is an awesome feat of dedication and attention to detail.

The landscape sprawls in miniature at eye-level, leading viewers from city to country, past familiar spots like Union Station, Multnomah Falls, the Gorge, and the Broadway Bridge. Every inch of its surface is treated with tiny trees, beasts, and citizens frozen in a world straight out of a second grade primer. People eat at outdoor diners, walk their pets, and marvel at our native, natural beauty. Civic order reigns--the circus is in town, a soundtrack of life's hustle and bustle has been piped in. Occasionally, as if to see if you are paying attention, the diorama's creators throw a curveball--Look! There's Bigfoot! Look! The SS Enterprise is hanging from the ceiling!--but for the most part, good order is the only order of the day.

One becomes aware of a Creator behind this universe, a creative intelligence playing a 3-D version of the Sims. This omniscient director even figured out how to control the weather and the solar cycle. Stay in the club long enough, and you will see day turn to night, a choir of crickets chirping, a palpable sleepiness overtake the land. Within minutes, the sun rises, and we find that life hasn't changed a bit. The grand architects and wizards of our tiny town do not sequester themselves behind curtains or remain elusive. In fact, they are as visible as any feature in the story, their torsos poking out from gopher holes in the middle of the landscape, wearing conductor's caps, twiddling dials, and communicating to one another through headsets. Looking like a polytheistic game of Whack-a-Mole, these members of the Columbia Gorge Railroad Club are, within this room, God over all they see.