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Tiny trains chuggin' for holidays

December 12, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Larry Jones came all the way from Laurel, Md., to check out the model train display at the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum.

He had stopped by a hobby shop in Myersville, Md., for a train display there.

"This is much better than the store," he said. "This is phenomenal."

Jones said he collects model trains - some $30,000 worth of them - but has no place to run them.

The museum has both the space and the trains. The trains and other pieces on display through the Christmas season, donated by museum members, make quite a sight.

"Most of us couldn't afford them. That's why we like to go out and see them," Jones said.

This is the ninth year the museum has set up the massive train exhibit.

"This is the biggest display. They're different every year," said William L. Knode, vice president and treasurer of the museum.

Knode was manning the controls Saturday afternoon, the first day the display was open to the public. Some 14 different trains of all sorts and a trolley car were at his fingertips.

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The 800 feet of track can accommodate up to six different trains at once.

The engines pull their freight along a double-level, 12-by-30 foot platform, under tunnels, over bridges and past miniature towns.

Museum members began building the display in November, putting in about 1,200 hours, Knode said.

While many model railroad enthusiasts stick to a particular era for historical authenticity, the museum display mixes the modern with the old.

"It's a fantasy railroad. It's what we want it to be," Knode said. "We want it to be entertaining for kids and adults."

There were plenty of both on Saturday. Hagerstown resident Charlotte Coleman said she had heard of the display in previous years but had never seen it.

"It is just really incredible," said Coleman, who brought her grandson. "I've never seen anything like it before It just blows my mind."

The sight of roaring trains, whistles blowing and smoke rising from the engines, never gets old for some.

"We love it. We come here every year," said Hagerstown resident Dave Greenwood.

Greenwood said he, his father and his brother all have train sets at home.

"Nothing quite like this," he added.

When the room lights go out, the trains and most of the model buildings light up. With 15 switches, Knode said the operation can get confusing.

"You have to very alert as to what's going on, that's for sure," he said.

Each year features new additions. This year, some of the trains are new. There is also a new oil refinery with oil well and storage tanks and a building that gives off smoke and creates the appearance of a fire. Firefighters and fire trucks surround the burning building.

* The display will remain up from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. through the end of January. Admission is $3; 50 cents for children 12 and younger.

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