WAUKESHA, Wis. — Out in the quiet countryside of Arkansaw, Wisconsin, brothers Bo and Ian Afdahl wake up every morning at 5 a.m. to milk and feed the cows on their family’s small dairy farm. After school, they come back home and do it all over again, typically working late into the evening. On the weekends, when they have a spare moment, they model.
“We don’t have hardly anytime on the weekdays,” said Bo, “It’s the weekends that we get it done.”
Bo and Ian, despite being just 16 and 13, already have nation-wide recognition for their skills. They were last year’s youth category winners in the first-ever Walther’s National Model Railroad Build-Off, taking home first place with their impressive 4-by-2-foot HO scale layout.
The module, which took them about a month and half to complete, is an idyllic 1960s farm and homestead intersected by a short run of track. Featuring a barn, farmhouse, windmill, and pasture of grazing cows, the layout was loosely modeled after their very own family farm, which they’ve lived on their entire life and was started by their parents.
“This is the only thing we do together; we have our own hobbies,” said Ian.
Prior to entering last year’s contest, they had only ever worked on one project together—a freelanced layout built on a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood. But when they got a flyer in the mail advertising the contest, they decided to take a shot and enter.
“I was pretty skeptical about entering, because I thought there’s so many people with so much more experience than us, we’d never make it,” said Bo.
Despite their apprehensions, the brother duo secured first place, winning a $1,000 check from Walthers and even landing themselves airtime on the local news.
“That was compensation enough,” said Bo.
Now, a year later, Bo and Ian are still working on layouts together. Although they don’t plan on entering into any more competitions anytime soon, they enjoy freelance modeling when they have the time.
However, expect to see more talented youth modelers. With entries for the 2021 Walthers National Model Railroad Build-Off closed as of May 31, there are sure to be an impressive array of layouts from this year’s winners across the HO-youth, HO-adult individual, HO-adult team, and open class categories.
Zach Thompson, Walthers Director of Product Marketing, says that from what he’s been able to see of the entry submissions for this year’s competition, the bar has been raised, with submitted layouts proving to be more advanced compared to last years, and full of self-expression.
“I think when folks are able to see the entries that make it into the semi-finals and the finals, they’re all going to be pretty amazed at how cool they look and how realistic they look,” said Thompson.
He’s particularly impressed with the level of collaboration he’s witnessed, especially among families working together to build a layout and learn new skills as a unit.
“That’s exactly the type of activity we were hoping to inspire with this,” said Thompson.
Layouts will be judged on a range of criteria based on creativity and talent, with judging taking place by an anonymous panel in June and winners being announced in the first week of July. The prize pool for this year’s competition has expanded, with opportunities for contestants to now place first, second, or third in each of the four categories to win cash prizes or product bundles.
More information regarding the contest is available from Walthers’ website.