A Michigan Event for Chrismas and More
Article and Pictures from The Train Collectors Quarterly Vol. 61, No. 1, January 2015
It all started about 30 years ago…the guys at my office knew I liked toy trains, so they suggested that we set up a Christmas display for our clients and friends. We invited these clients and friends into the office for refreshments once a year. It didn’t take very long for the general public (and their children) to learn about the trains. We had many visitors, and of course, every time someone came into the office to look at the trains, all work in the office came to an abrupt stop. It was more fun to run the trains, of course, than to work.
So shortly thereafter, my wife Bess and I decided we would set up the trains in the “man cave” at our home and invite a few friends over for refreshments and train watching. I put the track down directly on the carpet…just as I did in my childhood days. We started in an area about 10- by IS-feet. That was about 25 years ago. My sweetheart (Bess) would suggest improvements through the years. So this year I started the set-up at the end of September. We generally invite our friends to see the trains on the Saturday between Christmas and New Year’s, however, this year we are planning to brighten-up a wintery month (in Grand Rapids, MI) by having “train day” in the middle of January.
We general have about 150 people come to the house on “train day.” Some years it can be a chore because of the snow. I have to plow our front yard into a parking lot. Some people along with children come in the morning, and stay all day. Some just stop in to say, “Merry Christmas.” Many of the people who visit are complete strangers…it doesn’t matter, we are happy to share. I must say, my collection of old toy trains is well within the reach of children. We have never had one mishap from someone picking up or dropping a train. Neither have we ever had a situation where a piece “walked away” with one of our guests. We use the one finger rule which works very well. The children always want to touch, so we show them that they can touch with only one finger. This satisfies their curiosity and saves the trains.
I set trains running on continuous track loops with very little switching. This allows me to break away from the “engineer” controls to meet and greet the guests.
The children love to lie down near the tracks so they can see the trains as though they were full scale. They love the animated rides and accessories. I try to mix the trains that are running. Most of the time, we have six or eight active tracks running at one time. I run prewar, postwar, and modern era trains. One of the brightest attractions is the clockwork train. I run a 1918 American Flyer clockwork engine, tender, and one coach. A full wind will get the train around the long track one time. Then it needs to be wound again. The kids love to watch that little set wiggle and struggle to make the loop!
So, this year the trains will occupy a meandering area approximately 30 by 12-feet in two contiguous rooms. It is a challenge to change it each year so that people have fun trying to determine what has changed from the previous year. People give us new items to add to the layout each year. This year our friend Carol gave us five new ceramic structures including the University of Michigan stadium (the big house), the Michigan Union, etc. We also received a billboard advertising their business from other friends, and a flashing sign in the form of the famous “Las Vegas” sign.
Our two grandchildren, Jack and Alexa, help run the trains, and fix wrecks when they occur. The trains are open to stragglers (who can’t visit on “train day”) until I receive the signal from Bess to take down the trains and put them away for another year. This usually occurs around Valentine’s Day.