Long after trains were introduced and helped propel the United States into the Industrial Age, model train sets appeared on the scene and appealed to children as toys. According to www.modeltrainstoday.com, the Marklin company produced the first circular (“clockwork”) train sets in the 1890s, which typically were placed under Christmas trees, and soon realized that adults might want to build more elaborate model railways based on real trains and historical locations. From there, Marklin and like-minded companies’ marketing efforts shifted to an older crowd, and people adopted building model railroads as a full-fledged hobby.
In honor of National Model Railroad Month in November, visit some of the biggest and most elaborate model trains in the country. You’ll be astounded at the attention to detail and lifelike appearance of some of the trains, people, landscaping and architecture. The best and coolest are listed below.
What: With a track spanning more than eight miles, Northlandz in New Jersey is the longest model railroad on the list. And it’s not just lengthy, it’s tall, too – the tallest mountain is 30 feet (or 6,000 scale feet) high. More than 100 trains run over 40-foot steel bridges set over tall canyons and rivers, through caves and unique villages and along steep ravines. Bring your binoculars to see all the details on this jaw-dropping model railroad.
Where: 495 U.S. 202, Flemington, NJ 08822
Sierra Pacific Lines
What: Operated by the Pasadena Model Railroad Club, the Sierra Pacific Lines cover about 5,000 square feet, have more than 30,000 feet of hand-laid steel rail and allow for operation of multiple 60-car-long trains, according to the Pasadena Model Railroad Club site. From end to end, it takes a train one hour to complete the whole route, which features Diablo Canyon and the Diablo Canyon Bridge, 1800s California coal country and Alhambra, with deserts, mountains and industrial parks.
Where: Pasadena Model Railroad Club, 5458 Alhambra Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90032
Chattanooga Choo Choo Model Railroad Museum
What: Begun in 1973 as a joint venture between the Chattanooga Area Model Railroad Club and the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the Model Railroad Museum is a 1:87 scale replica of the city of Chattanooga and the Cumberland Mountain country. Worth nearly $1 million, the model railroad is 174 feet long and 33 feet wide, featuring more than 3,000 feet of track, 320 structures, 150 switches, 120 locomotives, 1,000 freight cars and 80 passenger cars, according to the Model Railroad Museum site. This exhibit is one of the largest in the world open to the public.
Where: Chattanooga Choo Choo, 1400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402
Carnegie Science Center’s Miniature Railroad & Village
What: As one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, there’s already a ton to do and see at the Carnegie Science Center. One of the highlights is the Miniature Railroad & Village, which offers a walking tour of a scaled-down version of western Pennsylvania. Created in 1920 as a local resident’s holiday display, this model railroad features hundreds of animated scenes that showcase regional life from the 1880s to the 1930s. In addition to a mini-replica of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, the model features Forbes Field, Punxsutawney Phil at Gobbler’s Knob, Luna Park, Sharon Steel Mill and Monongahela Incline, plus more than 250,000 trees, 105 animations, 60 trucks, 14 aircraft, 85 cars and 23,000 fans in Forbes Field.
Where: 1 Allegheny Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Clemenceau Heritage Museum
What: Offered to the public for free, Clemenceau Heritage Museum’s Model Train Room shows the nine railroads in the Verde Valley at the peak of their use, when everyone mined, smelted or worked on a cattle ranch. Built to scale from old photographs of the landscape, buildings and railroads, the model train shows Jerome, Jerome Junction (now Chino Valley), Clarkdale, Hopewell Junction, Clemenceau, Old Town Cottonwood and the surrounding ranches, according to www.clemenceaumuseum.org.
Where: 1 N. Willard, Cottonwood, AZ 86326
The Great Train Story
What: With more than 30 trains running along 1,400 feet of track, the Great Train Story tells the history of the railroad journey between Chicago and Seattle and passes through the Midwest, Plains States, Rockies, Cascades, Seattle Harbor and Lake Michigan and over the Chicago River and Calumet River. according to the Museum of Science and Industry site. Plus, this model railroad is interactive – help build a mountain tunnel, raise or lower a drawbridge and load lumber on a train car.
Where: Museum of Science + Industry, 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60637
San Diego Model Railroad Museum
What: Lots of different model railroads claim to be the biggest, or one of the biggest, in the world, but there’s no denying the size of the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. At 27,000 square feet, it is at least one of the world’s largest indoor model rail road exhibits. The museum features five different layouts: a 2,700 square foot O scale layout showing the route from San Diego to Sacramento; a 1,200 square foot N scale layout based on a railway that was surveyed but never built; a 4,500 square foot HO scale layout based on the prototype San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway; the two-level HO scale layouts showing the route from Bakersfield to Mojave in the 1950; and the three-rail O gauge layout Toy Train Gallery.
Where: Balboa Park, 1649 El Prado Suite 4, San Diego, CA 92101