Railroad displays ornament town's businesses for season

December 02, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG - Only during Christmas can one find an outhouse inside a hardware store and a lighthouse in an investment firm.

The outhouse is part of Herb Britner's model train display in Lewis' Paint and Hardware, the lighthouse is in David Jones' model train setup in his office, Edward Jones Investments.

The trains are part of Martinsburg's fifth annual Model Railroad Showcase, with trains to be on display in more than 15 downtown shops. Visitors can vote for their favorite.


One recent afternoon, Britner, 60, was busy inside the hardware store attaching sheets of paper board - with a sky scene printed on them - to a picket fence used as a backdrop in one of the store's display windows.

Tacking the paper to the fencing, Britner tried to excuse himself, saying he did not know what he was doing. Behind him, a three-level train display seemed to indicate otherwise.

Three trains, none made after the 1950s, were positioned motionless on rails. Britner incorporated a cave into his display, along with plastic buildings including a church, home and barn. Small plastic people, a water tower, trees, utility poles and other items rounded out the scene.

Britner, putting together his fourth display, said he has changed his train setup every year, hoping he might win a prize. So far he's 0-3.

Britner had model trains as a child but his interest was rekindled just recently.

"It wasn't Christmas unless you had a train under the tree. At least in my house," he said.

Across Queen Street and a couple of blocks away, Joe Wright's partially finished train sat in the window of Accent Printing & Copy Center.

Wright's train finished in third place his first year in the competition, and he has finished in second place the last two years. Like Britner, Wright, 36, also changes his display every year - this year adding a third level to last year's two-decker display.

He, too, enjoyed trains as a child.

"I don't know what the draw is; things in motion, maybe," he said. "I could watch a train go around the tracks for hours."

Business owners seem to like the model train idea as much as the train enthusiasts do.

After the man who put up a first-place-winning train in the window of Jones' investment firm moved away, Jones and his wife, Karen, decided to take up the job this year. They spent half a day putting together the display, which includes a lighthouse, mountain, buildings, Santa's village, fake snow and an Amtrak Metroliner train that "talks" - saying things like "all aboard."

Jones said that during his childhood in Huntington, W.Va., he used to take a train to Ohio to see the Cincinnati Reds play baseball. He, too, has been a model train enthusiast since his earlier days.

"I think it's probably the glamour. It's a way to reminisce about the past," he said.

Jones said people travel from throughout the area to see Martinsburg's model trains.

"I think it could be a huge thing for the whole Eastern Panhandle," he said.

Although Vickie Kave, part-owner of Rockwell Office Supply, relies on somebody else to put up a train in her store's window, she said she enjoys the benefits.

"It actually draws a lot of people. It's neat to see the families that come in," Kave said. "It's neat to watch their faces."

As in years past, visitors and residents of Martinsburg can vote for their favorite display, using ballot boxes in each of the shops with a train.

Also, on Dec. 14, three judges will scrutinize each train and hand out prizes for the best overall display, best toy train and others based on track gauge, said Joe Vanorsdale, president of the Bunker Hill Train Club, who is helping coordinate the event.

Although the trains will be set up through Christmas, they'll only be running on Dec. 7 and 14.

The brainchild of Main Street Martinsburg, the model train display idea was intended to bring people downtown, said Randy Lewis, vice president and promotions chairman of Main Street.

"Because of the Roundhouse and the activities going on there ... we decided this would be kind of neat," Lewis said. "Everyone loves trains."

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