The toy trains pulling 12-hour shifts at the Westminster Wal-Mart will have to speed up if they're to deliver the Christmas freight sought by Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The Taneytown church is hoping the trains will raise $7,500 in a raffle to benefit Carroll County Food Sunday, a Westminster food bank.
A similar Advent raffle last year netted $6,125 for Food Sunday -- enough to pay for a year's supply of milk for the 450 children served by the food bank each week.
But this year, ticket sales for the church's "Advent Train Garden" have been slow.
"We're looking to improve," said the Rev. John S. Douglas, pastor of the church. "We're hoping that the closer we get to Christmas, the more it will pick up."
The pastor is also counting on the train garden's location near the checkout aisles at Wal-Mart to create interest in the charitable raffle.
The train garden features a five-car passenger train, nine-car freight train and a trolley winding their way through tunnels and a snow-covered village on the 32-square-foot layout.
Press a button and Santa flies his sled over skaters circling a frozen pond on a hill above the town. Press other buttons and the train whistle blows or bells ring, announcing that a train is about to cross a highway. When that happens, lights flash and a safety arm is lowered.
The number of senior citizens pausing to watch the trains seems about equal to the number of small children pressing their noses against the glass wall surrounding the layout.
But many older children and young adults pass without stopping.
Some, like 14-year-old Justin Dull of Taneytown, are more interested in computer games than model railroading.
"My favorite is Resident Evil II," he said, referring to an animated, interactive game with graphics, puzzles and music that can be played over the Internet.
Still, put him in the engineer's role with his hand on the throttle and Justin is almost hooked.
"I like to run it until [the train] gets in trouble," he said. "Then I don't want to be the engineer anymore."
Douglas, a model train enthusiast, said he has never thought about abandoning the train garden for something else to raise money for Carroll County Food Sunday.
"The train motif worked so well last year," he said. "It's something you don't see on every street corner. For older folks, it's a trip back to their childhood."
The trains are also an appropriate symbol for Carroll County Food Sunday, Douglas said, since "half of all their clients are children." The purchase of raffle tickets -- $1 each or six for $5 -- is an opportunity "to do ministry and help needy children and families," he said.
Other churches and organizations are helping staff the train garden this year, taking two-hour shifts in a 12-hour day. More than 100 volunteers have committed themselves to sell tickets and provide maintenance on the trains, Douglas said.
The train garden is first prize in the raffle, which ends with a drawing at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The layout -- which cost about $1,500 "not including labor," Douglas said -- was built by members of the congregation with help from Crouse Ford, Keywood Builders, B & E Junction, Tyco Wood Products, Wal-Mart, Barnhart Bus Co., Henry Alexander, Radio Shack, Diane's Hallmark Shop, the Country Mouse and Taneytown Bank and Trust Co.
Train sets are offered as the second, third and fourth prizes.
Gift certificates donated by Jubilee Foods, Thunderhead Bowl, Country Mouse and Diane's Hallmark Shop are the fifth through eighth prizes.
The train display will be on exhibit at Wal-Mart from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily through Wednesday.
Pub Date: 12/20/98