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All aboard: Club hosting open house to share its love of trains

Welcome to Welcome, a fictional town created by the West Wisconsin Railroad Club.

“There are a lot of Welcomes in America,” said John Suppon, a train enthusiast and club member during a tour of the club’s layout. “I guess we weren’t thinking outside the box.”

Kidding aside, the fictional town of Welcome includes a lot — an ethanol plant, a sand plant, a town depot with a classic car show and a tree with a cat in it and a Dalmatian below it.

“We have a few buttons for the kids,” Suppon said as he pushed one of them, resulting in the sound of an explosion. “I think the kids are going to like these.”

Well, kids of all ages will have a chance to push the buttons and watch as HO scale trains chug their way along lots and lots of track that meanders through portable and permanent layouts based on western Wisconsin in the modern era at an open house Saturday.

“The heavy construction has been completed, and a good portion of the scenery is in place,” according to the club website.

So now, it’s time to show it off, according to club members, who have been meeting Tuesday mornings for the past couple of years for layout work days.

“We have put in much time and energy into creating a working, scenic layout, enhanced with wall murals of area railroad history, framed art prints and advertising as well as working ‘oil lamps’ and bead board to give our entry an old-time depot appearance and (creating a) feeling of arrival (at) someplace special,” Suppon said.

Welcome isn’t the only fictional town included in the layout. There also is Carefree with its big houses, storefronts and its own cemetery.

Down the tracks, the layout includes a bridge similar to one that spanned the Eau Claire River, and Roger Elliott, club president, is building a hydro dam at home that eventually will be put in place along the river.

In addition, there is a roundhouse — a building used for servicing locomotives and rail cars — and a turntable — a device for turning railway rolling stock, so that it can be moved back in the direction in which it came.

A variety of HO scale trains run along the tracks, including replicas of a French train and the 4141 George Bush locomotive created by Union Pacific in honor of the United States’ 41st president, George H.W. Bush. The real one-of-a-kind train, featuring the colors of Air Force One, transported Bush to his final resting place earlier this month.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Elliott, a club member since 2005. He got his start in model railroading as a boy. His older brother had a Lionel setup, and Elliott could run his trains on his brother’s layout — as long as he didn’t touch his brother’s stuff.

Elliott later discovered the HO scale and thought it was more realistic. He is building his own layout at home now.

While he is hoping people attend the open house, he’s also issuing an invitation for anyone interested in trains and model railroading to join the club. (“Except no more Johns,” he said, laughing as he explained that several members share that first name.)

“If you are into trains, join,” said Elliott, noting club members each bring something to the table, like knowledge and painting skills. “By joining, you get to play with trains, share resources and not fill your basement up.”

Member John Olson got his first model train at 6 months after his mother entered him into a drugstore contest. However, his father and grandfather wouldn’t let him play with it until he was about 10.

Olson, a self-described collector, has his own model train layout at home.

“My wife lets me have half of the basement,” he said chuckling. “I like running trains; it’s relaxing.”

Olson also enjoys being part of the WWRC for the camaraderie, and he has been attending the Tuesday work sessions.

The club has been around for more than four decades. The Chippewa Valley Model Railroad Club was formed in the early 1970s and held its first rain show in 1975, according to its website. At some point in the 1980s, the club was reorganized and renamed the Indianhead Model Railroad Club, and members met at various locations in Eau Claire.

The club eventually found space at 1723 Western Ave., and it later became its permanent home. The club adopted a new name — the West Wisconsin Railroad Club — on March 24, 2015.

“Western Wisconsin is home for us,” according to the club website. “We like to get together and talk trains, build models and layouts, run trains, go to train shows, watch and photograph trains, ride trains and trolleys, read about railroad history and future developments, and enjoy being together, doing most anything train related.”

Contact: 715-830-5838,, @CTOBrien on Twitter

7-year-old who spoke to Trump about Santa still believes

WASHINGTON — A 7-year-old girl who talked to President Donald Trump on Christmas Eve still left out milk and cookies for Santa despite the president telling her it was “marginal” for a child of her age to still believe in the jolly old elf.

Then again, Collman Lloyd of Lexington, S.C., says she had never heard the word “marginal” before.

Collman had called the NORAD Tracks Santa program Monday night to check on Santa’s journey delivering toys. In an interview with the Post and Courier of Charleston, she said the scientist who answered the NORAD phone asked her if she would like to speak to the president.

Six minutes later, Trump was on the line. “Are you still a believer in Santa?” Trump asked. When she responded, “Yes, sir,” the president added, “Because at 7, that’s marginal, right?”

Collman didn’t know what “marginal” meant and simply answered, “Yes, sir.” Trump closed by saying, “Well, you just enjoy yourself.”

Trump’s chat with Collman was initially reported as being with a boy named Coleman. Only Trump’s end of the conversation could be heard by reporters, but Collman’s family later posted video of the call on YouTube.

Collman told the Post and Courier that she and her 10-year-old sister and 5-year-old brother left iced sugar cookies and chocolate milk for Santa. She reported that Christmas morning, the food was gone and presents were under the tree.

In addition to the NORAD Tracks Santa program and church services Christmas Eve, Trump participated in another holiday tradition, wishing U.S. troops stationed around the country and the globe a merry Christmas. He spoke Tuesday by video conference to members of all five branches of the U.S. military.

“I know it’s a great sacrifice for you to be away from your families, but I want you to know that every American family is eternally grateful to you, and we’re holding you close in our hearts, thoughts and prayers,” Trump said. “We love what you do and love your work. Amazing people.”

The president spent a rare Christmas in Washington because of a stalemate with Congress over government funding that left several departments and agencies shuttered since the weekend, affecting the livelihoods of some 800,000 federal employees. Trump usually celebrates Christmas at his Florida estate. He scrapped plans to travel to Palm Beach because of the shutdown.

“I thought it would be wrong for me to be with my family,” he told reporters in the Oval Office after the give and take with members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard from their stations in Guam, Bahrain, Qatar and Alaska.

“My family is in Florida, Palm Beach, and I just didn’t want to go down and be there when other people are hurting,” Trump said. He didn’t say which family members were at the Mar-a-Lago estate.

Trump: 'I can't tell you when' government will reopen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that parts of the federal government will stay closed until Democrats agree to put up more walls along the U.S.-Mexico border to deter criminal elements. He said he’s open to calling the wall something else as long as he ends up with an actual wall.

In a Christmas Day appearance in the Oval Office, Trump issued a lengthy defense of his desire for a wall, saying it’s the only way to stop drugs and human traffickers from entering the country. In a nod to the political stakes he’s facing, Trump said he wants the wall by “election time” in 2020.

The promise of a border wall was a central component of Trump’s presidential campaign.

“I can’t tell you when the government’s going to be open. I can tell you it’s not going to be open until we have a wall or fence, whatever they’d like to call it,” Trump said, referring to Democrats who staunchly oppose walling off the border.

“I’ll call it whatever they want, but it’s all the same thing,” he told reporters after participating in a holiday video conference with representatives from all five branches of the military stationed in Alaska, Bahrain, Guam and Qatar.

Trump argued that drug flows and human trafficking can only be stopped by a wall.

“We can’t do it without a barrier. We can’t do it without a wall,” he said. “The only way you’re going to do it is to have a physical barrier, meaning a wall. And if you don’t have that then we’re just not opening” the government.

Democrats oppose spending money on a wall, preferring instead to pump the dollars into fencing, technology and other means of controlling access to the border. Trump argued that Democrats oppose a wall only because he is for one.

The stalemate over how much to spend and how to spend it caused the partial government shutdown that began Saturday following a lapse in funding for departments and agencies that make up about 25 percent of the government.

Some 800,000 government workers are affected. Many are on the job but must wait until after the shutdown to be paid again.

Trump claimed that many of these workers “have said to me and communicated, ‘stay out until you get the funding for the wall.’ These federal workers want the wall. The only one that doesn’t want the wall are the Democrats.”

Trump didn’t say how he’s hearing from federal workers, excluding those he appointed to their jobs or who work with him in the White House. But many rank-and-file workers have gone to social media with stories of the financial hardship they expect to face because of the shutdown, now in its fourth day.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leaders of Congress, said Trump “wanted the shutdown, but he seems not to know how to get himself out it.” Trump had said he’d be “proud” to shut down the government in a fight over the wall.

He also had said Mexico would pay for the wall. Mexico has refused.

Trump followed up on a Monday tweet in which he said he “just gave out a 115 mile long contract for another large section of the Wall in Texas.” Neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to follow-up questions, despite repeated requests.

The reference to 115 miles was unclear. Trump may have been referring to 33 miles of construction in the Rio Grande Valley that is set to begin in February, part of a total of 84 miles that Congress funded in March, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Asked who received the contract, Trump replied: “Different people, different people.”

He did say he envisions a wall so tall, “like a three-story building,” that only an Olympic champion would be able to scale it. He also compared Democrats’ treatment of him over the wall to their defense of James Comey after Trump fired him as FBI director.

“It’s a disgrace what’s happening in our country but, other than that, I wish everybody a very merry Christmas,” he said.

US says 2nd Guatemalan child dies in immigration custody

HOUSTON — An 8-year-old boy from Guatemala died in government custody in New Mexico early Tuesday, U.S. immigration authorities said, marking the second death of an immigrant child in detention this month.

The death came during an ongoing dispute over border security and with a partial government shutdown underway over President Donald Trump’s request for border wall funding.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the boy — identified by the Guatemalan consul in Phoenix as Felipe Gómez Alonzo — had shown “signs of potential illness” on Monday and was taken with his father to a hospital in Alamogordo, N.M. He was diagnosed with a cold and a fever, prescribed amoxicillin and ibuprofen, and released Monday afternoon after being held 90 minutes for observation, the agency said.

The boy was returned to the hospital Monday evening with nausea and vomiting and died there just after midnight, CBP said.

CBP has not yet confirmed when or where the father and son entered the United States or how long they were detained, saying only in its statement that the boy had been “previously apprehended” by its agents.

The agency said the cause of the boy’s death has not been determined and that it has notified the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general and the Guatemalan government.

A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl died earlier this month after being apprehended by border agents in New Mexico. The body of the girl, Jakelin Caal, was returned to her family’s remote village Monday for burial Tuesday.

The White House referred questions about the latest case to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, CBP’s parent agency. CBP officers and the Border Patrol remain on the job despite the shutdown.

According to Guatemala’s foreign ministry, the father and son entered the U.S. at El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 18, then were taken to the Border Patrol’s Alamogordo station Sunday. Alamogordo is about 90 miles from El Paso.

Oscar Padilla, the Guatemalan consul in Phoenix, said he was told by the boy’s father in a telephone interview that the two had been traveling from their home in Nentón, a village about 280 miles from Guatemala City. They were planning to go to Johnson City, Tenn.

The consul identified the father as 47-year-old Agustin Gomez, and said he remains in U.S. Border Patrol custody.

CBP typically detains immigrants for no more than a few days when they cross the border before either releasing them or turning them over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for longer-term detention. Agency guidelines say immigrants generally shouldn’t be detained for more than 72 hours in CBP holding facilities, which are usually smaller and have fewer services than ICE’s detention centers.

Parents and children together are almost always released quickly due to limited space in ICE’s family detention facilities.

A CBP spokesman on Tuesday did not respond to questions about the ministry’s statement.

The hospital, the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center, declined to comment, citing privacy regulations.

CBP promised “an independent and thorough review of the circumstances.”

The Guatemalan foreign ministry called for an investigation “in accordance with due process.”

Democratic members of Congress and immigration advocates sharply criticized CBP’s handling of Jakelin’s death and questioned whether border agents could have prevented it by spotting symptoms of distress or calling for an evacuation by air ambulance sooner.

CBP has said that it took several hours to transport Jakelin and her father from a remote Border Patrol facility to a larger station, where her temperature was measured at 105.7 degrees Fahrenheit (40.9 degrees Celsius). Emergency medical technicians had to revive her twice. She was ultimately flown to an El Paso hospital, where she died the next day.

Large numbers of Guatemalan families have been arriving in recent weeks in New Mexico, often in remote and dangerous parts of the desert. Jakelin and her father were with 161 other people when they were apprehended in Antelope Wells, about 230 miles southwest of Alamogordo.

CBP announced new notification procedures in response to Jakelin’s death, which was not revealed until several days later.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican whose district along the U.S.-Mexico border includes Alamogordo, did not respond to messages Tuesday.

Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat who will represent the district starting in January, called for a thorough and transparent investigation into the children’s deaths and more medical resources along the border.

“This is inexcusable,” she said in a statement Tuesday. “Instead of immediately acting to keep children and all of us safe along our border, this administration forced a government shutdown over a wall.

Felipe Gonzalez, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said Monday that the U.S. government’s detention of children due to their immigration status violated international law.