Kids take control of train museum display

January 03, 2002

Kids take control of train museum display

By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

Cole Pitsnogle's tongue was sticking out between his lips in rapt concentration.

Pitsnogle, 4, was manning the controls on two model trains as they circled a giant layout at the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum.

He was one of dozens of children who came to the museum to run the trains Saturday. At times, parents and kids were lined up outside the door waiting to get in.

Museum President Robert Tracey kept his hands inches from Pitsnogle's to guard against a sudden move by the child that could send the trains surging into disaster.


"Not too fast now," Tracey cautioned. "He wants to go all the way."

Ryan Lehigh, 7, stood on the side impatient for his turn at the controls. "Can I come in now?" he asked Tracey.

Lehigh, of Linganore, Md., came to the museum with his father, John Lehigh.

"I think trains are the best kind of transportation," Ryan Lehigh said. "I have models at home. I dream of trains all the time."

He crawled under the table and went back to his father when his turn was up.

"It was great. I mean awesome," he said. "I learned how trains work and what the buttons do."

John Lehigh said he spent nearly $300 on trains for his son for Christmas.

"He has four independent trains in a display in the basement," John Lehigh said. "He's always making bridges and trestles out of his Legos. It's good. I'm glad he does this."

The buttons that Tracey had the kids push sounded the bells, whistles and horns that bring a sense of reality to the huge layout, one of several in the museum.

"We're trying to educate the youngsters about trains," Tracey said. "We'd like to see more kids get into this hobby. They're losing interest today because of all the computer and electronic games. We hope events like this will get them interested. We also try to teach them that these are scale models, not toys." Museum members set up their annual O-gauge Christmas display in a rear room downstairs. It has trains going in different directions, as well as working models of ice skaters, skiers and sledders in a background of snowy winter scenes.

Most of the smaller kids seemed satisfied to sit at a small display and throw switches that set two trains in motion.

Keni Melby, 35, of Williamsport, was watching his 3-year-old son, J.P., work the switch.

"He loves trains. He has a wooden set at home," Keni Melby said. "My dad used to bring me here when I was a little kid."

Back at Tracey's station, Caitlin Wachter, 7, was at the controls. She lives in Lexington Park, Md., and was brought to the museum by her grandmother, Della Wachter of Hagerstown.

Her experience Saturday had little effect on her future career plans. Asked if she'd like to work on a railroad when she gets big she said, "I just want to get bigger."

The museum at 300 S. Burhans Blvd. is open from 1-5 p.m. Fridays, Saturday and Sundays. Tickets cost $3 for adults and 50 cents for kids.

The Christmas display will be dismantled after Jan. 27, Tracey said.

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