Life at a smaller scale: Local resident creates model railroad scenery

Jordan Gerard

For local resident Ryan Distad, life on the railroad has two scales: life size and 87 times smaller than life size.

That’s because Distad has worked as a conductor for Canadian Pacific Railroad and also creates signage for model train sets.

“I grew up in Rochester by the train tracks watching the trains go by,” he said. 

Beginning his foray into modeling train sets when he was three years old, his love for trains kept growing. He met John Teskey at a vendor train show. Teskey was a fifth grade teacher for 34 years and has his own business, “Teskey’s Trains.”

Teskey would travel and still does to train shows on the weekend. He’s one of the biggest vendors often seen at the shows, with 14 tables full of model railroad items, which all gets packed into an extended Ford van.

Distad started helping him out and traveling with him. When he was old enough to start his own business, Teskey told him there was a need for quality signage on model railroads.

“I put a couple packs together and I sold out within five minutes, so I found a niche here,” Distad said. “I’ve been in business for four years now. I keep pumping out new products, sell out quickly and people just like what I do.”

Distad uses real wood and steel to create his products. The scale he uses is HO 1 to 87, which means a typical speed limit sign is 87 times smaller than its real-life counterpart.

HO scale is most popular, while other sizes vary from tiny to large enough to sit and ride on.

Since the scale size is small, Distad said it’s tedious work to create packs of signs, but it’s a life full of learning.

Since he began putting together models, Distad said he’s learned about modeling, electronics, detailing, painting, carpentry, disassembly, assembly, woodworking and many more skills.

“It’s one of the best hobbies to get into for kids. It demands a lot of skills to learn and use in everyday life,” he said. 

The hardest part of the hobby is handling the little troubles that come along the way; for example, if the curves are too tight in your layout, the train will derail.

“It has to be done right. It’s a lot of trial and error,” Distad said. “Eventually you get it right. It takes a lot of patience.”

Though it’s a fun hobby to see many different models come to life, it can be costly. Quality locomotives start at $300 and can cost up to $600, while rail cars can cost $50 to $60 individually.

Distad said it really depends on how much detail people want to put into their model sets and the size of them. 

One of the best ways to start in the hobby is look for a club to join. Experienced model railroaders are fountains of information and help.

Magazines such as Model Railroader are also helpful, and in the era of the internet, YouTube is a valuable tool.

And as if model railroading was not enough of an outlet for his love of trains, Distad also worked with Canadian Pacific Railroad as a conductor. 

A conductor tells the engineer what to do, where to go and how to get there, completes paperwork and gets the rights to run a certain track. Conductors often become engineers, who control the trains.

Distad’s girlfriend, Briana, also works for Canadian Pacific as a track inspector.

As for Spring Grove’s own piece of railroad history, the historic train depot is still in need of funding to remodel it. Distad also has an interest in helping out that process. 

To contact Distad about his railroad products, email him at or visit his website at