a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A little magazine that rocks

With covers like this one, it’s no surprise that our newspaper took home a first-place journalism award this year for having an outstanding niche publication.

The current issue of the by-monthly magazine, Living Washington County, features an illustration by Observer-Reporter photographers Jim McNutt and Greg Tarr for a story about Christmas train displays in this corner of southwestern Pennsylvania. This geek likes it even more because we used for a prop my Mike’s Train House train set. Call me a geek for playing with trains, and also digging MTH over the more-expensive Lionel toy train sets.

The cover jumped to this story about these rather cool miniature train displays:

In the glory days of model railroading, all the downtown department
stores had miniature train displays at Christmastime.

And it was a big deal to pack up the family and take the streetcar to
Pittsburgh to see the model railroad villages and purchase a train set
for Christmas, said Scott Becker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Arden.

"That was the whole idea when we first started," said Becker, while discussing the museum's holiday train display, which turns 15 this year.

The children who visit love the trains, Becker said, but their parents seem to enjoy them even more.

"They get nostalgic and remember their dads setting up trains around the Christmas tree," he said.

To complete the experience, visitors get to take a ride on an old-fashioned trolley operated by volunteers in period costumes.

The train exhibit is among two that are open to the public this holiday season.

Retired railroad worker Joe Jack and his friends are taking at least eight toy train sets to Canonsburg and setting up a village in the Rakoczy Building.

Jack, 66, has been toying with trains since he was a kid.

"I don't do the normal things like hunt and fish," he said. "It's a natural thing for me as a retired adult to go on with the hobby and show the kids ... the little kids just go crazy."

Jack, who retired as a clerk in a Norfolk Southern freight yard, became hooked on trains at a time when much of the nation's goods were moved by rail.

The toy versions when Jack was a boy "were as common as computers are now," he said.

In Canonsburg for a third consecutive year, the display will include a large canyon, town, modern rocket site and a circus.

"Many of the children's favorite cartoon and storybook characters will fill the display also," Jack said.

At the trolley museum, the train village is staged low enough for children to see it while standing, and they have a chance to operate the controls.

"Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a train," said David Woods, 61, of Washington, who puts the museum's display together.

"I'm into model trains," he said. "I call myself the toy train engineer."

People Woods' age make up most of the business these days at the dwindling number of stores that sell trains in America, said Sonny Russo, owner of Trainland in Charleroi.

Russo said children and young adults would rather play computer games than take the time to put together a miniature train and village.

"Sales are down everywhere," he said.

He said stores like his mostly deal with "serious-minded, middle-aged" collectors or grandparents who have a notion to purchase their grandson his first train set.

"They want to remember the good old days," Russo said.

Canonsburg Christmas
Railroad and Village

Rakoczy Building, 102 W. Pike St.

Open: Dec. 6 through Christmas from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: Free; donations will be accepted for the Greater Canonsburg Library construction fund.

Pennsylvania Trolley
Museum Trolleys and Toy Trains

1 Museum Road, Washington

Open: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Monday through Friday

Dec. 12, 15, 19-22, 27-30 and Jan. 3, 4, 10, 11

Admission: $8 adults, $5 children, $7 senior citizens

1 comment:

Randall said...

Yes, sales are down in model train stores. That's because the lion's share of the business is now done online. Also, although nice large Lionel O scale trains are a Christmas tradition, few people living in more modern homes have room for them. Yet while the Europeans and Japanese have the good sense to market smaller scale trains for children, American manufacturers are only now beginning to get the idea. The model train industry is changing, but its definitely not dying.