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The City Journals

Train Tour Fits in One Room at Harman Senior Center

Mar 10, 2016 11:48AM ● By Bryan Scott

By Natalie Mollinet | [email protected]

West Valley - Neva and Lee Fels never expected that moving to Utah would lead them to a senior recreation center where they would spend almost five years completing an intricate train model of West Valley City, Park City, Magna and other areas in the Salt Lake Valley. 

You can find this one-room train land at the Harman Senior Recreation Center in West Valley on the corner of 4100 South and 3600 West. The Fels moved to Utah from Wisconsin after their daughter told them they needed to move to Salt Lake. The two found themselves in West Valley City and decided to sign up for a train club at the senior recreation center. Little did they know, they were the only members. 

The couple decided to turn some donated pieces from the Kennecott Copper Mine and other resources into an HO model train set, “HO scale” meaning 3.5 millimeters represents one actual foot.  

The large yet small train set provides a tour of areas such as the Great Salt Lake, Magna, Park City and parts of West Valley, and of course a small KFC to commemorate Colonel Sanders, whose parents owned the home that the senior home now resides in. 

Neva and her husband, Lee, took a basic train set and, according to them, gave it life.

“We gave it life, made it our ideal West Valley. It’s speaking to you; it’s got a story to tell you, where before it was kind of a train room,” Neva said.  

When Neva and Lee got the train room, it was just a basic train set with no features or mini people going about their day in Utah. With their patience and newfound art skills, they turned it into a masterpiece of a little Utah that you can take by train. 

“We try and change things down here once a week so that the people upstairs will come down to see what we did,” Lee said. 

The train set sits in an 11-by-7-foot room that is now filled almost to the top with mountains and at least 250 miles of scaled train track.  They say the seniors in the home don’t really help too much with the train set, because they are afraid they might hurt the hard work that has gone into the making. 

Lee suspects that there is about $10,000 worth of equipment in the room, including a lot of donated trains with models dating back to 1940. A lot of the donated trains have come from seniors in the home, including a Civil War model train that a family of a member had. 

The man that was originally in charge of the train owned a train shop in Kearns and only had one train inside the room. The train set hadn’t been touched for a couple years until the Felses came in and made it a place of their own that people could enjoy. 

“It almost took us a year to get a train to run around,” Lee said, because of how damaged the tracks had become. But now the train fills the room and spirals down the two-foot mountains. 

“We could use a bigger room,” Neva said with a smile on her face, looking at all the donated trains.

The couple said their love for trains came before they were introduced to the senior center. Lee played with trains when he was a kid and built them, and their daughter was their driving force to get them involved. 

“She didn’t think I’d have enough to do that I would want to stay here, so she actually took us to a train shop and we bought a train just to start,” Lee said.

Now Neva’s living room curtains are being used as a drape for underneath the tables where the train sets sit. The couple said that grandparents love to take their grandchildren into the room and show them the model trains and tell stories about how they used to work on trains or how a train used to pass through their yard, and it gives a connection between generations. 

“Everyone has got a memory or a story to tell us,” Neva said.

But as for putting anything Wisconsin into their model, the only thing they say is Wisconsin is the green grass that they have over the set. 

Visit the Harman Senior Center for a chance to see the trains in person. The Felses are more than excited to let visitors come and see their creation.