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A network of rail lines is gradually spreading across a 65 acre Harcourt block, the first shoots of a mammoth plan.
Rails are the ground work for miniature V/Line engines, and small steam trains, which will set off from a half-size version of the impressive Maryborough station.
It's thanks to the dream of one man, who began the Victorian Miniature Railway Club.
Andrew Mierisch was inspired by Train Mountain in Oregon to give Australia its own giant miniature railway.
The 470 acre Oregon site takes six hours to get around on miniature train. The Harcourt route won't take quite as long, but Mr Mierisch's plans involve 24 kilometres of track, a two hour round trip.
GRAND SCALE: Plans for the replica Maryborough Railway Station, an impressive entrance to the site. Picture: SUPPLIED
Miniature station and picnic sites will dot the route, which overlooks Harcourt.
When complete it will easily outsize the nation's next biggest miniature railway, Castledare in Western Australia.
The first stage will be a three and a half kilometre loop.
All this is a weekender for the group. It's just a hobby project for the 34 members of the Victorian Miniature Railway Club.
It is a heavy one though.
Mr Mierisch, his father and three or four close friends are at the site pretty much every weekend.
[It] fits in really well in the corridor of Castlemaine, Harcourt and Bendigo when it comes to tourism and activities. It's that win-win where we're playing trains but they get to enjoy [it].
Five to 15 people work on site on any weekend.
The club has even drawn members from the Harcourt community, both miniature railway enthusiasts, and those just keen to help.
"We've got eight local members joined in, some enthusiasts, some just community minded people that love to be a part, love to help and work and dig," Mr Mierisch said.
"Other people that are just looking for something to do interaction, community based involvement, and a couple just keen to help, love it and just keen to help."
Castlemaine students doing Victorian Certificate of Applied learning have also been helping out on site every Friday. Mr Mierisch believes believes the project gets kids who belong in a trade based environment back into focus, and engaged with school. Rather than being in a class room, they get to learn practical skills.
And, working with builders from the area, it's a great chance for them to secure apprenticeships, Mr Mierisch said.
A half-size replica of the grand Maryborough Railway Station is slowly taking shape on the site, while some tracks have been laid.
LINE LAYING: The railway tracks are made in Switzerland and laid by hand. Picture: DARREN HOWE
It's taken thee years of work to get the site to this stage, a lot of it involving an ongoing process sorting out permits.
Mr Mierisch is hopeful that the first stage will open in December.
There's three and a half kilometres of rail to lay first though. Each metre is laid out by club members on their hands and knees.
The rails are made at a foundry in Switzerland, and shipped to Australia.
The trains themselves are simple. There's very little design work involved, it's primarily modelling what already runs on the lines, Mr Mierisch said.
"It's all just trains at two and a half inches a foot scale. Those engines out there, the V/Line engines, they're working replicas of what is on the full size track, so you basically design through that," Mr Mierisch said.
"So you don't really have to design too much, you just copy in miniature."
The club chose Maryborough Station because of its impressive design. It will look exactly like the double story original, but at actually half the size.
"We were out to be grand in a scale, and the Maryborough Station has a grand stature in the railway industry, so it was a no brainer," Mr Mierisch said.
"It's a grand building, so why not model on the one that's the best."
GROUND WORK: Preliminary work on site at the miniature railway. Picture: supplied.
Smaller platforms scattered along the lines will be more similar to country town style stations. Picnic sites will make it a welcome place for families to come and spend the day.
The club plans to open every Sunday, charging a small fee to the public for rides, to pay the running costs.
It took the club nearly a year to find somewhere they could establish and set up the project. Harcourt was their answer.
Mr Mierisch is from Melbourne, but he's always had a soft spot for central Victoria. He and his wife plan to move up when their daughters finish school.
Normally a miniature railway club would go to a council owned park that doesn't get many people visiting, and rejuvenate it with a new venture, he said. But all the council parks in the area were spoken for.
Purchasing private land and creating a public space was the only way round the problem.
Harcourt stood out as a thematically suitable spot, in the region of Maldon's Victorian Goldfields Railway and the Bendigo Tramways.
The land has been "a really good fit", Mr Mierisch said. And the Harcourt community have certainly embraced the project.
"There's a hive of action going on in Harcourt right now. There's a real focus on Harcourt with Harcourt Progress Association," Mr Mierisch said.
BIG DREAMS: Andrew Mierisch was inspired by Train Mountain in Oregon. Picture: DARREN HOWE
"We want to encourage other community groups to come onto the site and co-exist and do their thing and stimulate each other.
"[It] fits in really well in the corridor of Castlemaine, Harcourt and Bendigo when it comes to tourism and activities. It's that win-win where we're playing trains but they get to enjoy [it]."
And then there's the enthusiast side. Mr Mierisch envisions miniature train lovers will come from all around Australia, bringing their partners and children to stay in the area.
But what's the appeal of small trains to these enthusiasts?
Well Mr Mierisch himself grew up into the love of miniature trains. His father joined an Eltham club the year he was born. And, his father's shadow, he was always there doing things with his dad.
To him, miniature trains are just like another hobby.
"It's just like car club guys ... you don't just buy the trains, you have to make them from scratch, you have to make the wheels, you have to make the frames, you have to build the frames," he said.
"You create it, you enjoy it. It's a hobby, just as a hobby as a tennis club, or a football club."
It may be just another hobby, but Mr Mierisch has taken it to the extreme. He's driven by a simple motto:
"Do it today because tomorrow may not be here."
This article first appeared on www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au
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