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Model Trains on Track

The Fairfax Station Railroad Museum conducts its 15th annual Model Train Display this weekend.

Cotton Bowen loves model trains. The Sterling resident is president of the Northern Virginia NTRAK club and has been a lifelong enthusiast of the hobby.

Right up there with building model trains and train layouts, though, is spreading the good news about models, to anyone he can.

"It's great to get out and talk to people about model railroading," said Bowen. "One of the joys is the small children who get entertained by it. It's amazing how much we can entertain them."

Bowen and members of the NTRAK club, which specializes in N scale model trains, will be in attendance at this weekend's annual Model Train Display, at the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum, on Fairfax Station Road. The event takes place Saturday, Dec. 4, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; and Sunday, from 12-4 p.m.

"People keep coming back, year after year," said Joan Rogers, president of the Friends of Fairfax Station, a nonprofit organization that governs the museum. "They enjoy the ambiance of the trains running."

This year's event will be a blend of holiday and hobby, as the entire station is decorated for Christmas by the Clifton Community Women's Club. And, of course, the show will offer trains of all shapes and sizes.

Model trains are classified by their size. "O" scale trains, such as those made by Lionel, are the most popular. "HO" trains are half the size of "O" scale trains, with "N" scale smaller still, and "Z" scale the smallest.

All the sizes will be on display this weekend and will be up and running with elaborate displays, which various clubs such as the NTRAK-ers, National Capital Trackers and Northern Virginia Model Railroaders will assemble on site.

"It certainly gives [people] a taste of all the different worlds of model railroading, so they can compare and contrast the advantages of each," said Bowen. "It's kind of like why they make different flavors of ice cream."

The event costs $3 for adults and $1 for children. According to Kay Gilbert, also with the museum, last year's event drew 1,000 visitors a day.

"It's kind of a traditional thing," she said. "It's something to bring your children to for the holidays."

Built in the 1850s, the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum is located at the site of the primary railroad station that served the City of Fairfax and served as a supply base during the Civil War. In 1973, Southern Railway closed the station, the final operating railroad station in Fairfax County. The museum was reconstructed and reopened to the public in 1989 by the Friends of Fairfax Station Inc., a nonprofit organization. It now serves as a museum of the history of the area, as well as trains, and hosts community events. This weekend's event will help get the word out.

"IT EXPOSES us to the public. There are a lot of people who still don't know about the museum and what we do, even though we've been here for 15 years," said Rogers.

In addition to the model trains, the fully restored caboose in front of the museum will be open for tours, and inside will be a running train layout, courtesy of the NTRAK group. Another group has constructed a G-scale layout, which will run completely around the museum.

All the profits from the event help fund the museum, which is entirely volunteer-run.

"It's one of our major fund-raisers," said Gilbert.

And of course, the children will keep coming back for more.

"We have small children who are basically groupies. If they know there's a train show at the station, they drag their parents to it," said Bowen. "I've seen kids with their parents come in month after month, just to see the trains."