From a niche hobby shop, these trains are headed to public showings this fall. Huntley and Woodstock, you’re about to board.
Matt Drennan has been a professional model train dealer for over 20 years, but his passion for trains hit full steam when he was 6.
“My grandmother and mother took me to see a circus train do a crawl-by in Crystal Lake,” he says. “I was more interested in the engine than the animals.”
That circus train set a journey in motion that led to MD Trains, a popular stop that Drennan operates in the Historic Woodstock Square.
“It’s pretty much a classic hobby shop,” says Drennan. “We deal primarily in trains, but we also have pretty much anything you’d imagine you’d find in a hobby shop.”
While MD Trains has been on the square for five years, Drennan shunted his wares to a new location, 124 Cass St., this April. The new space offers more legroom, with more than three times the square footage as the old location, which was right next door. Naturally, this extra space has been used for more trains. MD Trains also offers repair services and will even construct layouts for customers who want them installed in their homes.
“I have a layout craftsman on hand who is just excellent,” says Drennan.
Model train hobbyists of all levels stop at MD Trains, but Drennan always takes a seat with first timers to make sure their enthusiasm doesn’t go off the rails.
“The first thing we ask is how much space they have,” he says. “That determines what size you should buy.”
Style is also important.
“Do you want modern? Are you looking for Americana, the classic Norman Rockwell style?” he says. “In some cases, it’s a visit or two before the customer buys anything.”
Drennan’s passion for model trains takes him beyond the store, particularly in the fall. For the past eight years he’s been part of Huntley Fall Fest, happening this year from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1. MD Trains sets up a model train display for all to enjoy in the gym of the Huntley Park District’s REC Center at 12015 Mill Street.
“We’re going to have a couple of large clubs this year that are going to be exhibiting some beautiful layouts,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun and there’s a lot to do.”
Drennan is also the engineer of Rail Fest, held on Oct. 7 and 8, on Woodstock Historic Square. The event features train layouts in businesses throughout the Square and on nearby Throop Street.
“I wanted to do something on the square that would highlight trains but would also highlight the town,” he says. “This will be our fourth year, and we have some exciting things in the works. We had 25 layouts last year and we’re hoping to top that this year.”
For anyone with even a passing interest in trains, Drennan encourages them to check out these events and say hello or pop into MD Trains for a look around. They might be surprised at how large the model train community really is.
“There are some gorgeous layouts in basements all over northern Illinois that people don’t even know exist,” he says. “You could have a railroad right next door and not know about it, unless you get to know your neighbor.”
Once someone climbs aboard the model train world, they might find themselves on a similar journey as Drennan’s and find a passion that lasts a lifetime and beyond.
“For some, it becomes a generational hobby,” says Drennan. “A railroad is a living, breathing thing. It isn’t finished until it is finished.”