Encinitas student turns model railroading hobby into scholarship

John Gerdes from Encinitas was one of two scholarship winners.
John Gerdes from Encinitas was one of two scholarship winners.

MiraCosta College freshman John Gerdes remembers how his father and brother sparked his interest in model trains when he was 4.

“My brother would carry me in his arms and put me on his shoulders so I could see the layout,” said Gerdes, 18, an Encinitas native and San Dieguito Academy graduate. “My dad would let me run his trains in a circle going really fast. That was crucial to my early enjoyment in the hobby.”

Gerdes parlayed that hobby into a $2,500 scholarship from the Walthers 2021 Model Railroad Scholarship Program.

It was the first time Walthers, a model railroad manufacturer and distributor based in Milwaukee, offered the scholarship. Gerdes was one of two students selected after an application process that included an essay about how model railroading influenced his life.

“I had a chance to reflect on my experiences,” Gerdes said. “I spent about two, three hours writing the paper.”

One of those experiences, he said, involved a youth program started by a model railroading club he’s part of. As a leader of the program, Gerdes helped introduce model railroading to children from San Diego and the greater area.

Gerdes said he likes model railroading because “there are a lot of different ways for self-expression.”

“You can pick your eras, you can pick the kind of trains you want to run, the railroads you run,” he said.

He added that the hobby also instills a sense of community among its participants, and provides “a whole social circle.”

“I personally like realism,” Gerdes said. “Me and my buddies like to pour over hundreds of photos to compile the most realistic models we can. We also like to go out to the desert and the mountains and watch the trains in real life, take our own photos, have a good time.”

With plans to pursue a career in designing, Gerdes said he plans to apply to ArtCenter College of Design for his junior year.