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Remembering My Favorite Pageant of Christmas

Tom Crockett’s trains at Tan’s Cycles

     “He created a destination with his trains,” Marygrace Baergen says as she gestures across the kitchen table to her brother Tom Crockett.
      A pile of thank-you notes and old pictures are scattered on the table. Cardboard boxes wait to be unpacked in Crockett’s new house in Rose Haven, where he moved from the apartment at his former business, Tan’s Cycles in North Beach.
     Taking a break from organizing, the sister and brother are talking about the model trains Crockett set up in his motorcycle parts shop every December for 17 years.
      When Baergen refers to the trains as a destination, I nod in agreement.
      I had never been to North Beach until December 2012 when a friend suggested a group of us see the trains at Tans.
      “It’s a motorcycle repair shop?” I asked, “And it has model trains?”
      Model trains in a motorcycle repair shop just didn’t sound like my kind of outing, but perhaps my children, then 2 and 5, would like it, and it would be a day spent with friends.
      When we walked through the door, I discovered a model train display in a motorcycle repair shop was, indeed, my kind of outing. We spent more than an hour studying the 20-by-20-foot display from every angle. More than just trains, it was a miniature world with an airport, a waterfall, a skating rink, a town and so much more. Tiny people and animals frolicked. Tiny trees grew. Tiny cars parked as 25 trains sped along five levels of track.
       We played an impossible game of I-spy, noticing more and more detail until hunger got the best of us.
      That golden, perfect day in North Beach became a memory we cherished enough to make it a tradition. For the next five years, we met at Tans for what our children now called “the Christmas trains” and we adults referred to as “the Tans pilgrimage.” 
      As Baergen said, it had become “a destination” for us.
      Looking back on his long run, Crockett told me that he has loved trains for as long as he could remember. He credited his grandfather, Tom Tozzolo, a barber who had lived in North Beach, with buying him his first toy trains.
      In 2000, Crockett pulled his trains out of the attic and set up a small display in the 7,500-square-foot showroom of his then-new building at 9032 Chesapeake Avenue. Every year, it grew. Soon, he was displaying trains for Halloween, too.
      Multi-generational families, school groups, Scouts and bikers all seemed to love the trains. By 2006, Crockett’s trains occupied a 690-square-foot layout and included bridges, super streets, tunnels and disappearing trains.
      “Tom could fix just about anything,” Baergen said of the former town councilman and mayoral candidate, “and he started it all because he wanted to do something nice for children.”
     “I didn’t do it alone,” Crockett said. “I always had plenty of help.” 
      Health issues forced Crockett to retire and sell Tans earlier this year. Devin Shaw and his mother Susan Shaw purchased the Tans property and reopened the building as Triton’s Garage. As they work, people have come by looking for the trains.
      “Everyone has relayed such fond memories of seeing the trains at Christmas time, and they are sad to see that tradition come to an end,” Devin Shaw said.
     Crockett has donated some of his trains to North Beach’s Bayside Museum; others are still in moving boxes.