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Pandemic derails business at the quirky “Toy Train Barn” in Argyle

The tourist attraction is a labor of love for Buck and Jan Guthrie
Buck and Jan Guthrie have an amazing model train display but have closed their doors because of...
Buck and Jan Guthrie have an amazing model train display but have closed their doors because of the pandemic(Tim Elliott)
Published: Dec. 29, 2020 at 12:01 PM CST
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ARGYLE, Wis. (WMTV) - This pandemic has forced the temporary closure of a countless number of businesses and tourist attractions. The “Toy Train Barn” in Argyle has been closed since March. Owners Buck and Jan Guthrie say they want to keep themselves and their customers safe from the virus. But being closed has taken an emotional toll on the family.

“Just the people, not seeing the little ones. I miss the little ones and their bright eyes, and I used to get hugs from them,” said Jan.

The Toy Train Barn is located on Highway 81 in Argyle. People would come from all over to step inside an old dairy barn that’s been converted into a miniature society full of trains, people, and businesses.

“It’s the best kept secret right here in Argyle, Wisconsin,” said Buck.

Buck’s love for toy trains started as a youngster.

“Christmas morning, we would all run down to see the tree. But I ran down to see the trains,” he said. “Santa Claus would set them up that night while we were in bed and that’s what I wanted to see,”

“I don’t understand 10% of it, and I can’t fix anything, but I love talking about it,” Jan said with a laugh.

The barn is a dream come true for Buck who worked as a locomotive engineer for 30 years. He opened the tourist attraction in 2001 and for a $5 admission fee, he’ll take you on a tour of his own little world that he designed a built using household items.

The trains don't run often now because the tourist attraction is closed to the public
The trains don't run often now because the tourist attraction is closed to the public(Tim Elliott)

“I wanted something to turn these trains on and off and then I didn’t know how to do that besides a timer and one day I was taking a motor out of a microwave oven,” he said. “And I thought there’s a timer right there, that ought to work. That’s all that runs this barn. It’s all run on microwave controls,”

But the past year and a half has been rough. In 2019, Buck was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

“I ended up with a tumor on a kidney,” he said. “It was the kind thing you don’t know was there. There were no symptoms. I went in for a test and they found it,”

“In 2019, we adapted. We were closed quite a bit for the surgeries and the doctors,” added Jan.

The Guthries hoped business would bounce back in 2020, but then the pandemic hit.

“Sad thing is that no one is coming here to see this,” said Buck. “The phone is ringing off the hook. People want to come see but not until we know what is going on. It’s got to stay closed,”

The trains came to a stop and its breaking Buck’s heart.

“I have more fun watching the 90-year-old kid turn into a kid. That 90-year-old grandfather or great grandfather just went into the same world his grandchild is in. That’s fun. That’s nice to see,” Buck said getting emotional.

With its bright orange siding, the Toy Train Barn is hard to miss on Highway 81 in Argyle
With its bright orange siding, the Toy Train Barn is hard to miss on Highway 81 in Argyle(Tim Elliott)

The Guthries say they’ll keep their doors closed until it’s safe to re-open. Hopefully someday soon – they’ll be back on track.

Meanwhile, Buck says he is cancer-free but gets checked up every few months to be sure.

To donate to the Toy Train Barn GoFundMe page, click here

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