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).
The Trains of Christmas, at the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum (300 S. Burhans Blvd., 301-739-4665, http://www.roundhouse.org features an "O" scale, three-rail layout with steam and diesel trains that carry the brands of Lionel, MTH, Williams, Weaver and others.
The snow scenes decorate the four levels of layout as the smoke comes out of the stack and the sounds of old-time trains fill the air.
You can also view railroad artifacts and memorabilia, and the children can run some of the trains. In case you catch the train bug, a gift shop is available for your last-minute shopping.
The roundhouse is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. and also on Dec. 27 and 30. It will be closed Dec. 24, 25, and 31. The exhibit is on display through Feb. 26. Admission is $5 for adults and 50 cents for children 12 and younger.
Vroom and chug
Head southeast to see the humongous setup Tom Crockett erects every year at his Tans Cycles & Parts (9032 Chesapeake Ave. in Calvert County's North Beach, 410-257-6619, 301-855-8337, http://www.tanscyclesparts.com. Started in 1996, the 20-foot-by-20-foot platform has an eye-popping 31 tracks on five levels with 32 "O" gauge Lionel trains chugging hither and yon.
It takes almost a week to bring the scene from storage to life in the middle of the store. It only takes about five or six hours to dismantle it, says Ralph Carrello, who helps with the setup and making sure all the connections, bells and whistles work.
You'll also see a carnival, waterfall and construction site, and you're pretty certain to see what's new in the Lionel line because Tans is an official Lionel dealer.
On a good Saturday, about 200 people stop by to see this spectacular exhibit. The trains run on schedule from 3 to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
In case you don't make it to North Beach this winter, Tom also starts the trains moving for Easter, Independence Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and, just for fun, to bring the circus to this miniature town.
The other seasonal train gardens are smaller than the winter one, so you can spend more time taking in all the buildings, trees, tunnels, bridges and other accessories.
Head to Washington for two astonishing displays. The Norwegian Christmas at Union Station (40 Massachusetts Ave. NE, 202-289-1908, http://www.unionstationdc.com http://www.norway.orgis in its 14th year.
Trains move through a miniature but realistic Norwegian winter landscape complete with mountains, fjords, farms, a fishing village and a ski jump. If you look closely, you may even see a mountain troll or two.
Norwegian Christmas is on display through Dec. 30, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays. There is no admission fee.
At the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory (100 Maryland Ave. SW, 202-225-8333, http://www.usbg.gov can see eight model trains and iconic (and specific) buildings made of plant materials. You're supposed to determine who lives in such places as presidential homes and critter condos in a variety of styles.
The Garden Court will display a 24-foot Douglas fir from Garrett County, done up in its finest, 17 varieties of poinsettias and other seasonal floral displays.
The display is open through Jan. 2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with extended hours until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Live entertainment will include a barbershop quartet, a jazz quartet, a choral group and a klezmer band. Admission is free.