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All aboard for Christmas

The magic of model trains

The Washington State Historical Society will host the 22nd annual Model Train Festival Dec. 22 to Jan. 1. Courtesy photo

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There is magic about model trains, especially around Christmas.

For the 22nd year in a row, the Washington State Historical Society will host its Model Train Festival. The event takes place Dec. 22 to Jan. 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. The museum will be closed Dec. 24-25.  

While the state's largest permanent model train layout is always on display at the museum and is operated by the Puget Sound Model Railroad Engineers, the Model Train Festival draws other railroad clubs from the area to share their detailed and colorful layouts.

"It's certainly the most wonderful time of the year at the museum," wrote Molly Wilmoth, the museum's program manager.

Visitors can enjoy the many displays, watch dozens of tiny trains running across trestles and through towns, talk with model train operators, and make their own train creations in The News Tribune (TNT) Activity Room.

The room is stocked with toy trains, Legos and Lincoln Logs for children to exercise their imaginations.

"Every available nook and cranny is activated by trains, enchanting kids of every age with intricate, realistic layouts," Wilmoth continued.

The train layouts are built with exactitude; for example, the tiny signalman beside the tracks holds a period-authentic lantern, and the stamp-sized advertisement on the depot is historically accurate.

Santa plans on making a stop at the festival to greet the little train engineers in the crowd as well. His train is scheduled to be on site Dec. 22-23 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free photos with Santa will be offered.

In addition to the model trains, the Great Hall of Washington History will host displays detailing how the railroads influenced the growth and development of Washington State.

Visitors can also stop by the "Operation Lifesaver's" exhibit.  It will educate the public about safety at railroad crossings and the danger of trespassing on railroad property.  

Adding to the freight car of information to be had, the Tacoma Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) will be on hand to celebrate and promote the 20th anniversary of Rail Camp.

This presentation gives teenagers the chance to spend a week with other teens who share an interest in railroads.

The NRHS will also offer a tip of its engineer's hat to the end of an era:  Since 1914, at least one train per day has carried passengers from Portland to Tacoma, rolling along the Puget Sound shoreline and past Commencement Bay.  This service ends Dec. 18, and the NRHS will share photos and stories of the route's 103-year history.

"The Historical Society really enjoys hosting the Model Train Festival," added Jennifer Kilmer, the museums' director. "The festival has become a popular holiday tradition for families ... because it delights the child in all of us."

The Washington State History Museum is located at 1911 Pacific Ave. in Tacoma. For information about museum hours and admission prices, visit

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