WAUKESHA, Wis. – Meet the Turlans, a Connecticut family of three participating in the Walthers National Model Railroad Build-off. Entering in the HO-scale adult team category, this talented trio is on a mission to show the world that modeling isn’t just for the experts.
When quarantine first struck back in March 2020, Xavier and Lindsay Turlan were left secluded at home with their 7-year-old son Gabriel. Desperate to stay busy during the stress of lockdown, they needed a hobby they could all enjoy together.
Gabriel is growing up obsessed with trains. The family often spent the weekends visiting rail museums and train shows, so when those trips were no longer an option, the Turlans wanted to make sure their son, who is on the autism spectrum, still had some sort of normality.
“Gabriel needs his routines, and he needs things that he knows and understands. Not having the trains was really devastating for him,” Lindsay Turlan says.
Since they couldn’t take Gabriel to see the trains, they decided to bring the trains to him. Although Xavier had grown up around modelers and had a few Marklin trains from his Grandfather, the family knew very little when it came to the actual modeling process. But they were not to be deterred, instead, they taught themselves how to build mostly by watching YouTube videos — and a lot of trial and error.
During the past year, they managed to build their first ever module: the Marklin layout, modeled in HO-scale and designed after their own neighborhood and Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
“It was nice to all be together in one space during those months when everything was really uncertain,” Lindsay says, “Not just be glued to a screen and feeling helpless. We were doing something.”
With Xavier handling the wiring, Lindsay on the painting and building, and their son running the trains, the family had become a team. Xavier decided to post photos of their layout on Instagram to keep a record of their progress. Almost overnight, the followers started flooding in. First on Instagram, where they now have nearly 20,000 followers, then on Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and even TikTok. Wherever the Turlans posted, people were coming in the thousands to take a look.
Their popularity online drew the attention of Walthers, which approached them to be an “influencer” family in this year’s contest. This came as a shock to the Turlans who, only a year prior, had never touched a model kit, much less knew of Walthers.
“It’s amazing what you’re able to do with a small project,” Xavier says.
They put the brakes on their current layout and diverted all their energy into the contest. However, with Xavier and Lindsay both working full-time and Gabriel returning to in-person schooling, they have to find odd-hours to build before the looming May 30 deadline, often working nights and weekends.
“That was intense,” said Lindsay Turlan of when they first started, “We were kind of making it up as we went, and any errors or issues were our own.”
Entries in the HO-scale adult individual, HO-scale adult team, and HO-scale youth categories required the purchase of a Walthers kit. The Turlans chose the Down by the Station kit, opting for a more familiar scene. With a $200 price tag, the kit includes railroad crossings, an interlocking tower, and a trackside post office.
Their 2-by-6-foot entry is a modern layout, modeled after the former Union Station in Danbury, Conn. — which has since been turned into the Danbury Railway Museum — and downtown Norwalk, Conn. It even features a specially made “Alfred Hitchcock” figure, who is standing on the station platform where scenes from “Strangers on a Train” was filmed. When the family team is done, they hope to feature it at the museum as a temporary piece.
However, the Turlans don’t just want to be recognized for their modeling skills. They also want to make a difference in the world of modeling, which they believe is lacking in representation regarding modernity and diversity. They’re currently working with modeling companies abroad to develop characters of more diverse skin tones.
“We want to try and find ways to show that there’s people with different abilities, that there’s people of different color, that there’s people of different interests,” Lindsay says.
To follow along as the Turlans continue with their layout, check out their Instagram or YouTube channel. Although they can’t win the competition due to restrictions placed on Walthers influencers, their layout can serve as inspiration for other contestants.
According to Zach Thompson, Walthers Director of Product Marketing, the HO-scale adult team category is a particularly unique one.
“It’s a combined force of multiple individuals bringing their own expertise to the table and knocking it out of the park. Some of the team submissions that we got last year were just phenomenal,” Thompson says.
The last day to submit a layout for judging is May 30. While the deadline to enter in the HO-youth, HO-adult individual, and HO-adult team categories has officially passed, new contestants can still join by entering the open class category. The contest is open to all modelers regardless of their age or skill level.
And, according to the Turlan philosophy, it’s not fair to leave the modeling just to the pros. “Keep trying,” Xavier says, “You have nothing to lose.”
More information regarding the contest is available from Walthers’ website.