Bob Hanna
Bob Hanna
VAN WERT – When railroad enthusiasts from throughout the area gathered at the Van Wert County Fairgrounds last weekend, many of the children, young and old, gathered by the booth of Bob Hanna, who created a train switching game for all ages.

“This is actually a puzzle, designed to be frustrating,” said Hanna, of Defiance, who loves coming to the Van Wert gatherings. “On one end there is one engine and on the other end there are two engines and a car.”

The idea is to shuffle several train cars on to different tracks, surrounded by a village of businesses. Businesses are designated to where certain cars need to be delivered. The game involves who can maneuver cars around in the least amount of moves to drop them in front of their business. The game gets more complicated when a point system is added to make the moves more detailed and complicated.

“There are different nails placed at each site where cars are to be delivered,” said Hanna, who travels throughout the Midwest with his switching game. “Then a piece of plastic is placed on a car to remind where to put it.”

“People compete in contests with this stuff,” continued Hanna. “Some people can move the cars around in seconds. The more cars there are to move, the more complicated it becomes.”

Hanna said that he was always told that the first words he spoke were, “mama,” “dada” and “choochoo.”

His first train set was an American Flyer which he received at two years of age. Through elementary and junior high school, he kept building it up. As he got older, he started working on the art of switching.

“In high school I got a different set. Then I kept building on it each Christmas,” said Hanna. “It kept getting a lot more intense with more switching problems to build your skills. It provides good problem solving experience.”

Hanna said that he actually started making his layouts in the late 70’s of old layouts that he built into new ones. Along the way, the thing he enjoyed the most were the friends he acquired at each stop. He eventually got into Division Three of the National Model Railroad Association out of Fort Wayne.

“Now I get together with the Fort Wayne guys for an operating session once a month,” said Hanna.

“The thing I enjoy the most is when we do this for little kids,” added Hanna. “We have special setups for the kids.”