Whether you are of the generation that grew up riding trains as your primary mode of transportation or you associate locomotives with Thomas the Tank Engine, trains evoke a carefree nostalgia that can make anyone feel like a kid again. After all, who wouldn’t get a kick out of the sound of the cheerful whistle, white steam puffing mightily from the steam engine and parallel tracks stretching on as far as the eye can see?
For the fourth year running, The Museum of Art & History at The McPherson Center (MAH) has partnered with the Over the Hill Gang (the apropos name of the local Toy Train Operating Society’s Golden Gate Chapter ) to share the excitement and history of trains with a new generation. “As we get older and we die, where do our collections go if we don’t have young people coming along that are interested?” says Craig Miller, chief facilitator of the Over the Hill Gang and co-manager of the MAH exhibit. “We’re trying to infect them with this interest in toy trains. Maybe one out of a hundred kids will remember coming here and then when they get older they’ll think about it with their kids and start collecting too,” Miller surmises. Miller’s love of toy trains began back in 1947 when his aunt sent him a Lionel Santa Fe for Christmas. Ever since then he has been a fan of toy trains, and his collection spans from the 1890s to present day. “My trains got lost over the years because there’s an in-between time as a teen where you lose interest because of girls, graduation, college,” Miller shares. “So my wife never knew about my love of trains until after we got married and I started getting back into collecting. She says she was cheated,” he says, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
As a way to share their love of trains with the community, this free exhibit at the MAH will showcase members of the Over the Hill Gang’s vast collections of both O gauge and standard gauge toy trains. Tracks will be laid out over the entire bottom section of the museum, complete with tiny winter villages nestled amongst the tracks to further intrigue the imagination. Possibly the best part about the exhibit is that it is hands-on. Kids get to control the trains via remote control, and can blow the whistles and slam on the brakes to their heart’s content. “The controllers on the new trains have computers in them and they’ll talk and they do all sorts of stuff,” explains Miller. “They’ll stop at the station, say ‘all aboard,’ and they blow the whistle. There’s a lot of action going on. It’s a lot of fun.” In addition to operating the toy trains, visitors can view displays of many historic train advertisements printed throughout the 20th century. A drawing will also be held, allowing one lucky child to make their own holiday memories when they unwrap a shiny new train set under their own Christmas tree.
See Toy Trains 2009 at The Museum of Art & History at The McPherson Center from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Jan. 3, 2010. Admission is free for the Toy Trains exhibit, and between Dec. 26 and 31 admission to the entire museum is also free. For more information about the exhibit, visit santacruzmah.org.
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