If Lionel, Marx and American Flyer were part of your childhood lexicon, if in your mind the Super Chief is no Native American, if the California Zephyr is not a wind and Big Boy is not a hamburger chain, Tacomas Washington State History Museum has an exhibit sure to be close to your heart.
The museums 17th annual Model Train Festival, one of its most popular events, is open through Tuesday for those who have a taste for history and model trains.
You neednt know that Lionel, American Flyer and Marx were three toy train makers popular in the mid-20th century. Or that the California Zephyr and Super Chief were luxury passenger trains connecting Chicago and California, or that Big Boy was the nickname for the worlds largest steam engine, to enjoy the extensive model train layouts on display at the museum.
The intricately detailed displays are both a history and a geography lesson, and a tribute to the craftsmanship and devotion of the hobbyists who built them.
Those hobbyists bring their huge modular layouts to the museum annually during the holidays for the public to enjoy.
Those exhibits are technologically sophisticated radio or digital controls allow operations of dozens of trains simultaneously and historically accurate.
The intricately detailed sawmill, the authentic lumber camp and the rail car ferry built by Mount Rainier N-Scale Club member Dennis Reeve as part of the clubs display, for instance, represent dozens of hours of research and painstaking workmanship. The lumber camp including a dozen thimble-sized cabins was built from scratch. The lumber mill with its removable roof and detailed machinery was crafted from a kit.
The directions for its assembly and construction filled 41 pages. Reeve created the rail ferry after a long study of the barges used to move trains across the Sound.
The train festival includes not only hobbyists layouts assembled just for the display but the museums own permanent layout.
That model train layout is a condensed version of the regions rail network. It displays the familiar Tacoma rail features such as Union Station and the Tacoma Tideflats freight yards, as well as little-seen parts of Washingtons rail connections such as the depot at Lester on the Stampede Pass route through the Cascades.
The exhibit Saturday was attracting old and young alike. There were those old enough to remember bygone Tacoma landmarks such as the Top of the Ocean supper club on Ruston Way and the Dickman Mill depicted in some of the model layouts. And there were youths fascinated by the passenger trains pulling sleek-fluted stainless-steel cars and grain trains hauling 50 cars from the Great Plains to the model grain terminals on Puget Sound.
Michael Wingo of Renton brought his two grandsons, Mikhi, 8, and Jaden, 10, to the exhibit to give them both a taste of the hobby he enjoys, and also a dose of railroad and state history. The elder Wingo is a model train enthusiast. His grandsons were learning why he was so attracted to the hobby.
The trains. Theyre so cool, said the boys.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663
IF YOU GO
What: 17th annual Model Train Festival.
Where: Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma. The museum is adjacent to Tacomas former Union Station, now a federal courthouse.
Admission: $9.50 for adults; $7 for seniors, military members and students; free for ages 5 and younger.
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Open both New Year's Eve day and New Year's Day.