’Tis the season for snowflakes, shiny bows and choo-choo trains ‘round the holiday tree, courtesy of the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum.
This Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 2 and 3, the museum will open its doors to train enthusiasts of all ages for their annual Model Train Show, featuring trains of all shapes and sizes.
“For some reason, with this hobby, everyone likes their own size and specialty form of train and no one was talking to each other,” said Richard “Clem” Clement, a former train master at the museum. “This way, everyone can get together and talk about their hobby.”
The holiday show started 17 years ago and since then, Clement said, he’s considered it the start of the Christmas season.
“We produce magic here. The whole station comes alive,” Clement said. Watching children’s faces light up playing with wind-up trains, hearing adults share stories about their own memories of Christmas trains and enjoying the familiar clickety-clack of engines, cars and cabooses fill the museum for the two-day event.
Clement said Santa usually makes a visit or two, further delighting the children who often spend time chasing a large garden scale, or G-scale, train that circles the outside of the museum.
Jeff Mitulla and his train club, the Washington-Virginia-Maryland Garden Railway Society (WVMGRS), originally took up the challenge to set up the outdoor train track in 1997, the same year Mitulla became a board member at the museum.
“They challenged us to do this and we’ve done it every year since,” Mitulla said. “Some people even put snowplows on the front of their engines to push snow out of the way, the few years we’ve had it.”
Mitulla said the association of trains with the holidays, especially Christmas, is deeply rooted in people’s childhood memories, with tiny train sets, complete with miniature people and towns, circling Christmas trees cluttered with brightly-wrapped gifts.
“It’s funny, you hear people in their 30s and 40s coming by, talking about their childhood with trains, and then you hear 80 and 90-year olds telling the same stories,” Mitulla said. “Some of the older folks worked on the railroad, so that brings back memories for them too.”
TO ADD TO the local flavor, Mitulla said some of the trains on display include replicas from the old Baltimore & Ohio Railway.
From small Z-gauge trains to larger O and H-O sets, all the way up to the biggest set, the G-gauge, there’s something for everyone at the show, said museum president Joan Rogers.
“This was our first major event when we opened the museum,” she said. “We needed a draw, a way to bring people in to see the new hidden gem in Fairfax County, as former supervisor Kate Hanley called us.”
Since then, people have been coming back year after year to enjoy the trains, bring their friends and children to share in the festivities, what Rogers calls a “special time” at the museum.
Like Clement, Rogers said she likes watching the faces of children light up when watching the trains.
Sometimes, however, the children bring in trains that just don’t seem to be working — a job for the museum’s team of Loco-Docs.
A group of volunteers will take “sick” engines or cars and examine them carefully, to determine if they can be fixed.
“There’s something about watching a child’s face as he puts an engine across the counter and asks, ‘Can you fix this, mister?’” Clement said. “When you hand it back to them and it works just fine, there’s nothing like it. We fix memories.”