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All aboard for holiday train exhibit at Washington State History Museum

Nathan and Jordan Richardson of Auburn get a behind-the-scenes view of the Puget Sound Model Railroad Engineers exhibit at the 20th annual Model Train Festival at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma on Saturday.
Nathan and Jordan Richardson of Auburn get a behind-the-scenes view of the Puget Sound Model Railroad Engineers exhibit at the 20th annual Model Train Festival at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma on Saturday. phaley@thenewstribune.com

For 9-year-old Wes Robison of Port Orchard, it’s hard to explain a love affair with trains.

“I just like them,” he says. “I’ve liked them since I was little. I like their appearance.”

He was at the Model Train Festival at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma Saturday with his family, including mom and dad Kellie and Justin, brother A.J., 5, and sisters Luci, 7, and Maddie, 11.

Trains, explained Kellie, are “a big deal” for her kids. “They have always been fascinated by them,” she said.

It’s like being an art collector.

Gordy Gillmer, Pierce County Lionel Club

The fascination isn’t just for little kids. Gordy Gillmer of Spanaway and his 27-year-old son Travis were working in the exhibit of the Pierce County Lionel Club, set up in the museum entryway.

“It’s the visuals, the aesthetics. It’s mechanically based,” said Travis, who grew up tinkering with his dad’s model trains. Just don’t ask about the pricetag — some of the engines can cost thousands of dollars.

“It’s like being an art collector,” added Gordy. “You just have to keep on collecting.”

While the Lionel Club and other exhibitors mostly feature miniature versions of historic trains, a more fanciful exhibit downstairs in the museum is built entirely from Legos, and features characters from the Thomas the Tank Engine stories. Exhibitor Jaella Gilliam, 13, works at the City Blocks Lego studio at Freighthouse Square. She’s a walking, talking encyclopedia of all things Lego.

“I like to do the show to inspire people,” she said. Rather than having kids build Lego characters from kits, she wants them to explore their imaginations. That’s the reason for the table filled with Legos that’s part of the exhibit.

“I want to let them build what they want, to be creative,” she said.

The festival also includes exhibits from Kitsap Live Steamers of Port Orchard, the Mount Rainier N Scale group, the Boeing Employees Model Railroad Club, and the HO Modular Group from the Pacific Northwest Region of the National Model Railroad Association.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635, @DebbieCafazzo

Tacoma train festival

The 20th Annual Model Train Festival runs through Jan. 1 at the Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma. Hours are 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Admission to the train festival is included with museum admission and free to museum members. More information: washingtonhistory.org

Want more Legos?

Attend Brick-by-Brick, a holiday Lego play event where you can build trains and anything else you can imagine. It runs through Jan. 3 at City Blocks in Freighthouse Square, 602 E. 25th St., Tacoma. Admission is $10.

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