Huge Model Train Set Chugs into New Railroad Heritage Center

Texas State Railroad Society volunteers Adam Cleghorn (left) and Steve Gohman assemble a corner piece to the trim that holds the Plexiglas wall around the perimeter of the model train layout. The two together with Shane Murphy (not shown), share most of the credit for the installation of the Paul Domis model railroad at Palestine's Railroad Heritage Center.

Besides being the westerly destination for the iconic Texas State Railroad, Palestine christens its new Railroad Heritage Center on Friday, March 30, and adds an extensive model train set in its exhibit area to mark the occasion.  

The Texas State Railroad Society pursued and received the display from the family of Paul and Maria Domis of Dallas, said John Price, who with his wife, Linda, led in the efforts. Before retirement, Paul worked as a technician with the Dallas Health and Science Museum and Planetarium, now the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Maria was a seamstress at Neiman-Marcus store in downtown Dallas.

The massive HO-style model train exhibit measures about 20 by 40 feet. It is rich in detail with miniature buildings, people and landscape. The move took 1.5 years and involved cutting the exhibit into 10 pieces and then resetting all sections and pieces up in Palestine.

The city and Anderson County have a rich history of railroad expansion in the western movement of the U.S. In 1875, the International – Great Northern Railroad placed its machine and repair shops and general offices in Palestine, causing the community to double in size over the next five years. Other railroad companies also had a presence in Anderson County, including Texas State Railroad/Texas & New Orleans and Missouri Pacific/Union Pacific. The area surrounding the model set will be used to present the history of railroading of the railroads serving Palestine and their connections. 

In an earlier stage of development is a more child-friendly area that will house an HO-scale model railroad layout that will be more easily identified as having an East Texas theme, and space for activities such as toy railroad construction and operation.

The center is located at 808 W. Oak Street, four miles from the actual TSR depot, but on the edge of downtown Palestine. The grand opening is set for 3 p.m. A requested donation of $3 per adult and $1 per child of school age will assist with the exhibit's expenses. 

Opening hours for the Railroad Heritage Center are typically 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday to Saturday. However, the center is open daily for volunteer work at this time.

Price says the features of the model railroad have roots in the memories of Domis. "One of his close friends for 17 years, Kenneth K. Klaviter, provided significant support with maintenance and design improvements. Daughters and grandchildren were very aware of progress with the model railroad, which became a family treasure."

Domis was a member of the Texas Northern Model Railroad Club formerly of Mesquite, Texas, a member of the North Texas Council of Model Railroad Clubs. 

The decision to donate the layout was made in the weeks preceding Domis’ death on April 16, 2016. In due course, Maria and her daughters decided to donate the layout to the Texas State Railroad Society for use in the Railroad Heritage Center being developed in Palestine. Maria passed away on April 26, 2017. Five months later, the layout, carefully cut into 10 sections, was delivered to its new home in Palestine.

The design of the layout is not specific to a time period, location or railroad. Instead, the design reflects Domis' personal experiences. He was born in Holland in 1933. After German occupation during World War II, he occasionally traveled by train to visit his uncle in Germany.

The minster (cathedral) is based on that at ┼░lm in Germany. "We don’t know if that was seen on his journeys to Germany, but it was one of the first models that he made," said Price. It is entirely made of paper, 1,500 pieces, cut out one at a time and glued together.

The minster is in a town square, a typical feature of European townships. Nearby is a house that was inspired by a view on a Christmas card, with a shingle roof. Each shingle was placed in position one at a time.

There are four features that are part of the Dallas skyline. The main station is a representation of Dallas Union station. A skyscraper is reminiscent of the Magnolia building, with the Pegasus symbol atop. The famed Baby Doe Restaurant (now demolished) is also displayed in the model with its design as a replica of a Colorado mine building that was located on the side of a large hill in the Dallas area.

Near to the passenger station, there is a "strip," believed to have been influenced by his time spent in New Jersey, where he frequented three bars and a coffee shop with two friends. In representation of a city’s main street, there are reminders of his past in Dallas: a Neiman-Marcus store, an antique shop where he used to take his daughters, and restaurants that served some of his favorite dishes.

For more information about the exhibit or the center, visit, or contact the group at or by phone at 903.393.4014. Also follow the progress on the Texas State Railroad Society's Facebook page.

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