My model train paraded around the living room floor of our Silver Spring home when I was 7 or 8 years old. I think we could put a little pellet in the engine to create the steam.
It wasn't very big and I'm pretty sure we didn't have any buildings or trees to adorn the set-up. Considering I already had a travel bug, it fed my dreams of train travel to far-off places.
Apparently, lots of people in Maryland — site of one end of the first railroad line in the United States — share a fondness for old-fashioned trains and devote countless hours setting up and running train gardens for our enjoyment.
Baltimore & Ohio
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad museums in both Ellicott City and Baltimore have model train exhibits.
In Ellicott City (2711 Maryland Ave., 410-461-1944, http://www.ecborail.org in the oldest railroad station in the country, a multi-tiered, head-spinning 360-degree "O" gauge model train layout is the center of the annual "Festival Of Trains" holiday celebration.
Younger ones can wonder at a Thomas the Tank Engine layout ("G" scale), and the permanent "HO" model layout is on display in the Freight House. Frosty the Snowman (Dec. 18) and Santa (Dec. 17) will be visiting to add to the excitement.
The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (except Dec. 24 and 25 and Jan. 1), through Jan. 30. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $3 for children and free to museum members.
At the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore (901 W. Pratt St., 410-752-2490, http://www.borail.org you'll find the city's largest toy and model train layouts, and you can see a different visiting model display every weekend.
Photo sessions with Santa are available on weekends through Dec. 19, and with Frosty the Snowman through Jan. 2. Train rides are available, too.
Local song and dance groups present live performances on weekends. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed Dec. 24 and 25 and Jan. 1). Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and $8 for children. For another $2 you can visit both B&O museums.
Always a delightful destination, Brookside Gardens (1500 Glenallan Ave. in Wheaton, 301-962-1400, http://www.brooksidegardens.org has a winter display and train exhibit with tastes and colors of the season in its conservatories. Members of the Washington, Virginia and Maryland Garden Railway Society assemble a "G" scale train set (that's the large size) that weaves through the trees and plants of this whimsical setting amid small towns and countryside.
This display coincides with the outdoor "Garden of Lights," which has nearly one million twinkling, colorful bulbs. Adorned with evergreens and colorful flowering plants (including chard, hot peppers and other edibles), the train exhibit runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. through Jan. 8 (except Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 for daytime hours and Dec. 24 and 25 and Jan. 2, 3, and 5 for nighttime hours). The indoor display is free during the daytime; the Garden of Lights has a per-vehicle charge.
Roads & Rails
David Burroughs, founder of the Roads & Rails Museum (200 N. East St. in Frederick, 301-624-5526, http://www.roadsandrails.com says he has one of the largest model train displays in the country. His world has a zoo, circus, a working volcano, subway, coal mine, castle and much more.
The setup is beyond normal expectations because David's son, Matt, used to work for the Discovery Channel in the stock footage department.
His brother John worked on set design and special effects in Hollywood, and his dad and another brother had worked in the computer field for years. It's like having your own Industrial Light & Magic movie studio in your back yard.
It took them three years to build the "O" scale set-up and to collect some rare "orphan" cars to include in the display. The museum is open Wednesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $4 for children (3-11).