Some toy train aficionados love the compact HO-scale trains, which lend themselves well to elaborate handmade landscapes to enhance their track layouts. Others enjoy the history and detail of larger standard-gauge trains, which first appealed to fans in the 1920s and ’30s.
The Virginia Train Collectors’ Toy Train Show, which is set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at East Rivanna Volunteer Fire Company in Keswick, will offer everything from toddler-friendly wooden tracks that assemble like puzzles to wind-up trains that were popular in the decades before electricity at home was widespread.
And if you’ve been looking for a hobby to explore together as a family, model trains can appeal to interests ranging from history to travel to mechanical and electrical design to crafting detailed dioramas and settings.
And for many enthusiasts, the sheer fun of speed is reason enough. That’s why this year’s new feature of the annual show is an opportunity for children to put on free conductors’ hats, take the controls and compete in some train races.
“We wanted to do something sort of hands-on for children,” Peter F. Primiani said.
“The train collectors know about the show, and they come. But it’s the young families we’re interested in reaching.”
The local club’s annual show already has outgrown two previous locations, the Holiday Inn on Fifth Street and the Elks Lodge on Stony Point Road. Primiani said attendance may range from 500 to 1,000 people, and there’s always room for complete newcomers.
“It’s something a young child can do with their parents,” Primiani said. “They can construct a simple layout, or, as they get into the hobby, they can get more elaborate layouts.”
Primiani said that building train layouts can teach simple wiring concepts and offer endless possibilities for creative terrains. Holiday-themed settings are popular; many train fans have fond memories of assembling tracks around Christmas trees and creating winter-wonderland layouts with Department 56 collectible buildings. Some families prefer a classic mid-century terrain, while others want their trains to chug through scenes from favorite books or films.
Saturday’s show will include three operating train layouts for all ages to enjoy.
There also will be 70 vendor tables offering trains and accessories for collectors all across the spectrum, from preschool fans of wooden Brio trains and tracks to lifetime collectors looking for rare cars worth thousands. Parents can select starter sets to take home to start a new family pastime.
Primiani, who has served four terms as president of Virginia Train Collectors, is active on the national level as a board member of the Train Collectors Association and recently was elected its vice president. He said that part of the appeal of his lifelong hobby is the room it offers for endless learning.
“For me, over the years, there are so many facets to collecting,” Primiani said. As a boy, he received his first Lionel train in the mid-1950s and savored the sense of accomplishment he gained from wiring and operating his first miniature railroad. Years later, as a father, he was delighted to bring his trains out of their boxes and share the hobby with his own children.
He began to branch out by learning about trains made by different manufacturers. In addition to Lionel trains, he began adding trains by Ives, Dorian, American Flyer, Marx, Hafner and Joy Line Trains to his growing collection.
“Then I got into wind-up trains from the teens and early ’20s,” he said. “They’re like art objects; they’re really substantial. They’re more toylike, because they’re not to scale.”
Admission is $5 for grownups; fans ages 12 and younger get in for free. The fire department will make breakfast and lunch available during the show. For information about the event, the club and the world of toy trains, visit vatraincollectors.com.