Harold Claassen has loved trains since he was a young boy. Now, he has a model train exhibit open for all to see in his family’s flea market, located within the Pickles Gap Village.
Claassen’s Vintage Market is nestled in the old-fashioned Pickles Gap Village, which is a tourist attraction north of Conway along Highway 65. Harold and his son, Mark, offer a variety of items to tourists and locals in the dozens of booths rented by others inside the store. The two also create hand-crafted woodwork and other creations upon request.
What’s not advertised beyond word of mouth is the model train exhibit stationed at the back of the market.
Jim Davidson, who co-owns the village alongside his wife, Janis, said the set up is “incredible.”
Tourists are greeted with a rail road crossing sign and other train-themed knick knacks as they stumble upon one of the smaller exhibits that leads into the “main attraction.”
As families enter the room, Harold said he is humbled to watch their facial expressions as they are immediately overcome with awe.
“Even the grown ups … they just gasp with excitement,” Harold said with a smile.
The 81-year-old Faulkner County man said the ability to share his love for trains and the railroad companies brings him joy. Since he was young, he has been fascinated by locomotives.
Harold was first charmed by the many types of engines at 4 years old – when his father purchased him his own set of model tracks, a three-rail type.
“Trains are something the whole family can get into. Children can learn from it. My first one was like this,” he told the Log Cabin Democrat on Monday while pointing to a three-rail model track surrounded by model trains.
Soon after receiving the three-rail track, a much-younger Harold asked his father for a two-rail track. The then-4-year-old’s father took the track away and was able to provide him with a two-rail track a few years later.
“It’s in a box right now,” Harold said, noting that he still has the old track.
While the Faulkner County man has created several exhibits through the years, the main attraction within this hidden gem was built by a Holland man and his daughter, Vicky Riddiough. Harold said he purchased the large piece at an estate sale two or three years ago.
The exact time frame it took Jerold G. Riddiough and Vicky to build the piece is unknown, but Harold said he suspects it took the two around a decade to complete.
The exhibit is Harold’s favorite piece in the train-themed portion of his shop.
After her father died, Harold said Vicky was “very upset” about having to sell and part with the piece the two built from scratch. As a young girl, Vicky would set out with a bucket and pick up pieces of shale rock the two used to create portions of the scenery and mountains on the exhibit.
Since purchasing the piece a few years ago and opening the flea market in December 2018, Harold said he has lost contact with Vicky. The 81-year-old hopes to reconnect with Vicky and show her the set up at his shop so she can see the piece she and her father created is still up and running smoothly.
Using the controls from an old switch engine, Harold will first sound a horn with one lever and then open the door leading into the exhibit room with the other. As people walk into the train-filled room, they are first greeted by an exhibit Harold made using a refurbished luggage car.
While searching online years back for a luggage car that would suit his dreams, Harold said he was hindered in the high-price ranges the old railroad cars were selling for. Many were priced around $3,000, he said. However, he soon found a hit that fit his needs. Harold said he remembered stumbling upon an old luggage car that was located in Tyler, Texas, and he did not hesitate to hit the road.
This railroad car was priced at $140.
“It was in pieces … but I hopped in the car and went and got it,” Harold said standing before the luggage car that has since been pained yellow and hosts a model train exhibit.
The Faulkner County man’s love for locomotives extends beyond modeled exhibits.
As a child growing up in Newton, Kansas, Harold said he enjoyed greeting the conductor who drove the train that traveled along the railroad that was located near his family’s farm.
“After school, the train would come by – we were in the second and third grade – so of course, we’d run down there and wave,” Harold recalled. “About the third time we ran down to wave to [the conductor], he would throw bubble gum and candy out to us.”
There is no admission fee to stop by and observe the model train exhibit at Claassen Vintage Market, but Harold said donations are accepted, noting a donation box was located toward the front of the exhibit room.
The market is open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.