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Leo Vilstrup's boyhood fascination with model trains led him to run one of the Pacific Northwest's' longest-operating stores the past 30 years. Leo Vilstrup, far right, owner of Vic's Hobby Shop, hangs around with his Oregon O Scalers: from left, Gustavo Gonzalez-Mesa, Bruce W.
Vic's is among the oldest hobby shops in the Pacific Northwest, dating to 1943, and Vilstrup is its fourth owner.
Leo Vilstrup, owner of Vic's Hobby Shop, will soon be dismantling the model railroad layout that fills the shop's basement. In the basement of the Northeast Broadway shop, down a rickety, narrow staircase and behind a door marked, "To The Trains," he and fellow hobbyists have spent a couple of decades building a large model train layout featuring small-scale scenes of the Northwest conjured by Vilstrup's imagination. The layout includes a sawmill, a grain silo, a dam and hydroelectric power plant, snow-capped mountains, a station with several hundred individually installed shingles and dozens of hand-crafted Douglas firs. Every Saturday morning, a regular gang of eight to 10 people meet in the basement to admire their work, compare designs and watch the trains run.
You can't actually see the men or their lunches without peering directly inside the tower and tilting your head at an awkward angle. The demise of Vic's Hobby was years in the making and driven largely by a combination of outside forces. The aging of the Baby Boomers means a growth in the model train world's target audience -- older men.

The stores that thrive are typically the ones that diversify, selling trains and remote-control cars, board games, puzzles and model airplanes. He doesn't have room for a big layout at his house in Milwaukie -- "My wife is only so tolerant" -- but he does have a small machine shop and plans to keep repairing old engines and cars and building new ones that include the kind of detail only a true collector will notice or appreciate. The day's important news, including local and national headlines, delivered every morning. Brown, John Willworth, Pete Dorland, Rick Piper, and Ken Eigner inside the model train layout which they have built at the basement of the store in Northeast Portland. He's also still a farm boy at heart -- practical, handy, more inclined to speak about the things he can do rather than how he might feel. He and his wife, Delores, owned an audio-video store in Hollywood when the preceding owner of Vic's, a long-haul trucker, decided to get out 30 years ago.
He sells nothing but model trains, model train magazines, modeling tools and train accessories, which include tracks, tiny people, farm animals and cars to run alongside them. The level of detail is dizzying -- the interior of one dining car is carpeted, and small lamps on each table give off a soft, soothing glow as day turns to night.
Fewer children clamor for trains, at least once they've grown out of Thomas the Tank Engine and the Hogwarts Express. So did the addition of parking meters in the Lloyd District -- "We needed parking meters here like you need another aperture in the cranium," he said -- and construction of the new eastside streetcar loop.

The owner of his building gave him a break on rent during the recession but recently announced that he needed more revenue from the property. I guess I'll miss the camaraderie," he said recently, as a few customers wandered the aisles and Christmas lights blinked in the front window.
When he talks about the closure of his Northeast Portland business, Vic's Hobby Supply, he doesn't go for flowery language or sentiment.
Hobby shops used to be the place enthusiasts went to find out the latest trends, check out the newest models and meet other collectors. Yes, the return of trains to Northeast Portland helped kill this Northeast Portland train store. Vilstrup hasn't turned a profit in two or three years and opted to close rather than figure out a way to pay more rent. There are no rules telling you what you have to do, nothing besides the immutable laws of electricity," Vilstrup said one recent afternoon as he surveyed the layout and noted details of which he's particularly proud, such as the two men sitting down to lunch on the second floor of a control tower. Instead, he's selling as much of his stock as he can before turning in his keys at the end of January.

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