All Aboard!

Trains live on in more than our memories and our hearts

Trains are just another form of transportation to some folks, no more interesting or glamorous than the bus that takes you from long-term parking to the airport terminal.
    But if you’re one of the countless train lovers, like me, read on to discover three local ways to bring to life your train fantasies.

See the Trains

Indulging train fantasies is a labor of love for model railway fans, and they delight in creating elaborate layouts. After creating the next pleasure is sharing with others, particularly kids and particularly during the holidays. The best layout I’ve seen is the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. If you’re willing to drive two or three hours each way, pay the gas, tolls and admission, I highly recommend it.
    You’ll find two train gardens closer to home right here in Bay Country. No admission fee, no tolls and you’re likely to be no farther than a 30-minute drive from at least one of them.
    The venues are very different. In Northern Anne Arundel County, you’ll find a massive train display housed in an abandoned Friendly’s restaurant at Marley Station Mall. At Tans Cycle Parts in North Beach, motorcycles are moved out to create a large display space in the main showroom.
    Remarkably similar at both are the people making it happen. You can’t go out and buy layouts like these; they are crafted by the skilled hands of dedicated volunteers.
    “It’s a bunch of guys who like to work on trains and support a good cause,” says Mike Agro, one of the Marley Station volunteers. For more than 20 years, the informal group has met every Tuesday to maintain and upgrade its layout. They put on their show to raise money to support the North County Emergency Outreach Network with raffles and donations.

Mike Agro and Frank McDonald at the Marley Station Mall’s train display. “Sometimes on a weekend you can hardly move,” McDonald says. “Parents have to drag their kids away.”

    Plan your visit. “It’s very popular,” advises Frank McDonald of Pasadena, the informal leader of the group. “Sometimes on a weekend you can hardly move. Parents have to drag their kids away.”
    The volunteers at Tans echo the same sentiments.
    “It’s a work of love,” says Jan Carrello of North Beach. She’s one of a group of about eight friends of Tom Crockett, the owner of Tans, who make the train display possible.
    “It’s a lot of fun to watch the kids come in and enjoy themselves,” says Crockett, a lifelong train enthusiast, with a big smile.
    “And adults!” ­Carrello adds.

“It’s a work of love,” says Jan Carrello, one of the enthusiasts who help with the train display at Tans Cycle Parts.

    At Tans, the layouts reside in a loft most of the year. As I visited, the Halloween layouts were being hoisted back into storage and the Christmas displays were coming down. The group of volunteers gently handles the large tables and guides them into position in the showroom.
    There is an additional bonus if you visit Tans: Along with the motorcycles and trains, Crockett has a third passion: Anatolian shepherds. Not a commonly known canine species (at least outside of the Anatolia region of Turkey), these dogs are admired for their size, gentleness and herding abilities. Three Anatolians hang around the shop and sometimes prove as big an attraction as the trains. No wonder: Zeke, the old man of the pack, tops out at 165 pounds and is the biggest dog many of us are likely to see.
    After seeing model trains, the enthusiast’s next stop is riding them.

Ride the Trains

O-gauge — track 1.75 inches wide — is the most popular size for public displays like Marley Station and Tans. N-gauge tracks, common in home layouts, are less than one-half-inch wide.
    Some hobbyists think the opposite and are attracted to model trains so big the layouts must be outside. Instead of being powered by batteries or transformers, they run on coal-fired steam or gasoline engines. These models, called live steam, are so big you can ride them. Locomotives and rolling stock, as the cars are called, are hand-built with skill and dedication. It can take years to complete a model steam engine. Engines and cars might be six to 10 feet long. Passenger cars will typically carry three to four people. The track is 7.5 inches wide.