You can’t call Boyd Grabau just another model train hobbyist. That would be like calling Paul Bunyan just another lumberjack. What Boyd has done with his hobby is far beyond what most train lovers would ever imagine. In his own words, “Like I tell everybody, it’s not a hobby, it’s an obsession!”
For the past 30 years, Boyd, a lifelong resident of Spring Valley, has been working on the model train display in his basement. It’s a tired cliché to say “You’ve got to see it to believe it,” but that is very true in this situation. Boyd has an entire room (14×32 feet) in his basement devoted to 20 different HO scale train tracks, and the related decorations run all the way to the ceiling. At this time of year, the entire set-up is decorated for Christmas, in extraordinary detail. As the 20 tiny engines pull their cars around the tracks, the room is filled with a gentle hum.
Boyd says he got more serious about the project following a quadruple bypass heart operation in 1991. He was told that he needed to find a hobby, and obviously, he took that advice seriously. When asked how much time he spends on the collection, Boyd answered, “I work on it probably five hours a day in the wintertime, and about an hour, here and there, in the summer.” When asked how many train engines he has, Boyd immediately piped, “Three hundred and twelve!”
Boyd said that when he was working for the highway department (MNDOT), “Sometimes, even when I was working until midnight, I’d come home and take a quick shower, and be down here until three or four in the morning. I enjoy it, it’s therapeutic!”
Some hobbyists who’ve devoted this much time and expense would forbid anyone to come near, for fear of damage to his collection. But Boyd has taken an entirely different approach. Year-round, he welcomes friends and strangers into his home to enjoy his collection, and proudly stated, “I’ve had probably 600 to 700 kindergarten kids come through.” He added that teachers must be giving kids very clear instructions not to touch the collection, because the kids are always very well-behaved.
Boyd does not charge anything for coming to see the collection, although he does have a coffee can set up for freewill donations, of which 100% goes to local causes, including the Spring Valley fire and ambulance departments, and the local food shelf. He explained that the food shelf’s “Blessing of the Backpacks” program is particularly dear to him, stating, “There’s a lot of school kids that go home on Friday nights, and don’t have a meal until they come back to school (Monday morning).” He said the program gives needy kids a backpack filled with nutritious foods to get them through the whole weekend. He said he was surprised to learn the number of families right in Spring Valley that have such need.
When asked how much he expects to raise for charitable giving over the holiday season, Boyd said roughly $500. He expects to welcome a total of nearly 300 visitors through his home this holiday season, and said, “I think we’ve got about 140 or 150 already. We’ll leave it open until the last week of January.” At some point after that, he’ll spend about four weeks changing the collection over to its summertime decorations. And then next fall, he’ll do it all over again. Anyone interested in seeing his collection is encouraged to call Boyd at (507) 346-2885 to schedule a time to visit him at 304 W Courtland in Spring Valley.