Red Ryder BB guns, Flexible Flyers, and Lionel trains. Certain toys tug at the heart, soaked in holiday nostalgia. Yet while the gun and sled gather cobwebs in the attic, Lionel trains are clicking down the track at Taylors Mill. In fact, Model Trains Station is sending hundreds of cars, cargo to caboose, around the bend in what’s billed as South Carolina’s largest Christmas display. “We have HO, G, N, and O scale trains,” explains club chairman Bob Rayle. “Yep, just like railroad, get it?” he asks with a canny smile.
There’s a lot to smile about as Model Trains Station celebrates its one-year anniversary in the 16,000-square-foot space. Rayle reveals, “The club has grown by 20 percent, and we have more displays going up. We’re always adding to what we have.” Local train enthusiasts formed the club in 2010 and bounced around several locations before finding the long-term lease in Taylors. Now, the non-profit is putting up permanent displays to share members’ passion with the public. “It’s like doing a painting,” Rayle says, describing the elaborate layouts. “It’s the artistry of making something look real.”
Setups include an exact replica of Baltimore’s Amtrak Station (valued at more than six figures), the real German town of Schönweiler complete with nearby Alps, and a miniature circus train with hand-carved, wooden cars and animals. “My first train set was one my dad brought home from work. My brother and I built it when I was about eight,” the 74-year-old recalls. “So many children today have never seen a model train. There’s Thomas on TV, but to actually see one, they’re just amazed. There’s something here for the one-year-olds to the 98-year-olds, because everybody sees it differently.”
With a Roundhouse for birthday parties, Archive Room for collectors, and play tables for toddlers, Model Trains Station provides an engaging ticket for all. Members even encourage visitors to dust off their own locomotives and bring them in to ride the rails. Sixteen-year-old Griffin Gilbert volunteers at the station alongside his grandpa. “He got me interested in trains, and it’s what bonds us,” the teen admits. “I love trains. I hope to pass this on to my kids.”
Model Trains Station is open Thursday–Sunday, located at The Taylors Mill, 250 Mill St, on Dock 3 across from 13 Stripes Brewery. Adults, $6, kids, $4. Santa will visit the station on Saturday, December 15. For more information, visit modeltrainsstation.com.