In the late 1980s the Foothills Mall had pretensions of classiness or, at least, affluence. It aspired to be what La Encantada is today. Its pretensions never quite matched the taste of nearby residents however and, seemingly as a result, much of the mall's floor space was empty. The vacancies had one positive effect: they yielded space for a few genuinely interesting tenants, such as a model railroad museum.
I remember numerous visits to The Gadsden-Pacific Division Toy Train Operating Museum, hammering buttons to unleash trains and activate lights. It was a mesmerizing, kinetic playground for the imagination and it made waiting for a table at a nearby restaurant an adventure rather than a painful slog—probably for everyone involved.
It has been over 25 years since I last set foot into the Gadsden-Pacific and, until recently, I had forgotten its existence. But the museum is orders of magnitude larger today than it was when I last visited. Booted by the Foothills Mall in 1997, the Gadsden-Pacific relocated to a 6,000 square-foot warehouse and its small army of volunteers got busy raising mountains, platting communities, and laying track. The results are impressive.
Let's visit them.