And while those small train sets may be a vital part of seasonal décor, no one has enough space to display the largest exhibit of Lionel trains in Tennessee or the largest American Flyer exhibit in the entire southeast, except for the Southeast Regional Train Museum.
Located at 110 West Market Street in downtown Johnson City, the museum has enough square footage to hold all those O and S scale tracks and locomotives. Gary Cameron, director of the museum, and fellow members of the Southeast Regional Train Museum Club will host an open house at the museum on Dec. 8, coinciding with the Johnson City Christmas Parade.
From 4:30 to 8:30 p.m., Dec. 8, the public is invited to "ooo and awe" at the antique model choo-choos and the detailed landscapes they travel through. The beautiful rolling mountains and reflective ponds resemble regional sceneries. Displays of the PolyPipe Plant in Erwin and the historical Kingsport Office Supply building are fascinating local features, along with the real red blinking lights and sounds of a train crossing, plus plenty of John Deere equipment.
"American flyer is very popular at Christmas time and every boy back in the 1950s had to have one," Cameron said. "Adults remember the trains that they had that may have been lost or given away, and it makes them wish they had them back."
The ability to share this sentimental feeling with those who also treasure model trains is one of the reasons Cameron keeps tinkering with the museum and its setup. He and other club members meet weekly to continually improve the layouts and add more. A current project is repairing the historic Allison East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Tweetsie HO layout that had suffered some water damage and was donated to the club after its creator passed away.
Having a variety of scales on display is a goal for Cameron, who wants to see more youth become interested in model railroading. The hobby tends to gravitate toward an older generation, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
"There are children who just have an inherent like for trains and their parents often have to tear them away (from the museum)," Cameron said.
The Southeast Regional Train Museum was established five years ago as a place to display trains bigger than the HO scale models that are set up at the George L. Carter Railroad Museum on the East Tennessee State University campus. The two museums aren’t in competition, but instead look to complement and support each other. Plus, the HO layout at the Southeast Regional Train Museum that features scenery from Northeast Tennessee to Boone, N.C., would not be able to fit in the limited space at the Carter Railroad Museum.
Big layouts need a lot of space and the museum on West Market Street has plenty of it.
"As a result (of the two museums), Johnson City has the most to offer a model railroader than about any place in the Southeast, including the big cities," Cameron said.
The location of the museum is also a big benefit because the active train system that comes through downtown Johnson City can be seen from the museum’s big glass windows. Plus, the historical relevance of trains and their tie to Johnson City is all the more reason to have a museum.
"When we hear the crossing signals go down, a lot of the guys run out to see what’s coming through," Cameron said.
He is working to find a new generation of people to enjoy this "super hobby" that he says incorporates everything from history to electrical, collecting and modeling. Cameron also has several state-of-the-art aluminum modules on display at the museum that break down into flat shelves that can be put in any car and transported so that groups can get together at a location and assemble their modules into unique larger sets.
"The main thing is to display what we have and to encourage people to get things out of their closets and put it out so people can enjoy it," Cameron said.
The Southeast Regional Train Museum is located on the corner of West Market Street and Commerce Street in Johnson City, beside Campbell’s Morrell Music. For more information, visit www.seregionaltraincenter.org/Index.htm or call 423-833-3383.