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Holiday show in full steam again at Roundhouse

November 29, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Bill Knode and his fellow members of the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum have been workin' on the railroad.

No, not the one whose tracks you cross after grafitti-covered freight cars have lumbered past.

They've been working on the model railroad at the South Burhans Boulevard museum, preparing "The Trains of Christmas," a four-level, 12-by-30-foot model railroad layout that opens tomorrow.

The wintry exhibit will be on view Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through mid-February. The museum also will be open the day after Christmas, a nostalgic break from the hottest video games, talking dolls and other hi-tech marvels that are sure to appear under 21st-century Christmas trees.

The Trains of Christmas is the "kind of train layout we always wanted to have and never could," Knode says. "Now we're the big kids," he laughs.

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Knode, who worked in industry and is retired from 25 years of teaching at Washington County Job Development Center in Smithsburg, never worked on the full-sized trains, but railroading is in his blood. Both grandfathers were railroaders and an uncle was a passenger conductor on the Western Maryland Railroad.

The holiday-season display has been different in each of its previous 12 years, and the Trains of Christmas present continues that tradition. As Knode mans the controls and eye-drops an occasional bit of oil into engines' smokestacks, fellow museum members Blaine Snyder and Jim Snyder (no relation) crouch and lie upside down on the floor beneath the layout - making the electrical connections that bring the miniature landscape to life.

The display is purposefully set at a height of 22-inches - just the right level for viewing by little kids. It's a temptation for some who want to reach out and touch the wonder, Knode admits.

"The Trains of Christmas" is an O-scale model train display - 1/4 inch to a foot of the real thing. When the Roundhouse Museum crew's job is done - after about 3,000 hours of labor - six trains will be able to run at once, Knode says.

Passenger trains with lighted windows, freight and flatbed cars carrying minuscule lumps of coal and loads of logs will wind through a snowy landscape. There's a sawmill atop one mountain. Skiers glide down another while skaters spin round and round a shiny pond.

An oil refinery is set between two hills, and at the far western end of the display is a coal-mine operation. A radio tower bears the call letters WHRM - Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum. Blaine Snyder built it of balsa wood and copper when he was 8 years old.

Tiny villages rest in the valley - "New Town" and "Old Town" - complete with time-appropriate buildings and detailed model cars and trucks. "Miracle on Village Place" is billed on the tiny movie-theater marquee.

There is, of course, no touching this display, but children can have hands-on experiences at the controls of the museum's diesel locomotive, on a kid-sized locomotive and a couple of actual bells, one 70 years old and from a Western Maryland Railroad steam locomotive.

There are five additional model train layouts upstairs at the Roundhouse Museum. Kids can throw the switch to send Thomas the Tank Engine and a military train around one.

Another display, an HO-scale layout (that's half the size of the O scale) features a roundhouse very much like the 25-stall Hagerstown Roundhouse torn down March 13, 1999. "You don't forget certain dates," Knode says.

"This is what it used to look like," says Lenny Crapoff, another retiree and museum member.

School groups are welcome, and private parties can be accommodated at the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum. There's a lot of railroad and Hub City history.

For those who remember the railroad, memories are waiting to be rekindled. And for those who never have experienced it, the wonders are waiting at the station.

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