With his striped conductor’s hat and bright smile, Bill Knode mans the control station for seven trains and a trolley car every holiday season.
This is the 22nd year for the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum’s “Trains of Christmas” exhibit, and Knode has been involved since its one-level, humble beginnings.
“People from all over the world have been here,” he said. “I think for one thing, this is like a fantasy land. It’s a layout we all wanted when we were kids, and there’s something in the layout for everyone.”
Today, the exhibit boasts four levels of miniature tunnels, bridges, ski lifts, people and buildings.
Knode, co-chairman of the “Trains of Christmas” committee, said 6,000 train lovers viewed the exhibit last year. This season is off to a promising start, with more than 3,000 patrons stopping by so far.
In past years, patrons have traveled from as far away as Delaware to watch the trains chug through the snowy landscape at 300 S. Burhans Blvd.
“We hope to do at least as good as last year,” Knode said.
Also sporting a conductor’s hat, 7-year-old Hagerstown resident Zachary Lambert is a veteran “Trains of Christmas” patron.
“He’s a train fanatic,” said his father, Bill Lambert. “I love them, too. We’ve been coming to the exhibit for the past three years.”
Zachary is anxious to receive his own train set for his next birthday. Until then, he and his father visit the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum about six times a year. They particularly look forward to the Christmas layout. This year, Zachary’s favorite in the scene is the trolley car.
“They rebuild it every year. It’s not just the same thing every time,” Bill Lambert said.
This year, the layout includes six never-before-seen trains, a nighttime display and a fire-rescue scene. The track runs seven of its 26 trains at a time.
“We’ve never had any two alike,” Knode said. “There are changes in scenery, new buildings and new people each year.”
The first level is set at a height of 22 inches for younger patrons, and the other three increase in 50-inch increments.
The five members of the “Trains of Christmas Committee” meet each August, and work on changes and improvements through November. The exhibit is open to guests through late February.
“We get together and say, ‘What can we do better, what changes can be made to the layout?’” Knode said.
Some attractions, such as the beloved Santa Fe Super Chief, return each year, but the committee likes new characters and trains to populate the scenery, as well.
This year, the exhibit opened Nov. 18 and will continue through Feb. 26. Hours are Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Tickets cost $5 for adults and 50 cents for those 12 and younger.
“We really enjoy having people come in to see it,” Knode said. “It brings back memories of your childhood.”