A holiday railroad experience now at the much-cherished National Museum of Transportation abounds in utter wonderment.
More specifically, that long-standing landmark in Keyes Summit, in west St. Louis County, is hosting tandem celebrations of the art of model railroading till Jan. 3, during the museum’s regular hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The dual displays opened on Black Friday.
Some area readers might recognize the first display from Yuletide shopping jaunts to downtown St. Louis between 1988 and 2012. Despite often stinging flurries and frigid gusts, the young and the young at heart during that period flocked to the southwestern corner of the aptly named 21-story Railway Exchange Building. There, the Famous-Barr Co. (later Macy’s) showcased a model train storefront display reportedly comprising 400 square feet, with seven passenger and freight trains chugging along 300 feet of track on three levels.
“The trains rolled through mountain passes, over snowy landscapes, through miniature towns,” notes the museum’s website. Staging that annual miniaturized tribute to the splendor of the “iron horse” was either the American Flyer “S” Gaugers of the St. Louis Area model train club or the Gateway Division of the nonprofit National Model Railroad Association, “the largest organization devoted to the development, promotion and enjoyment of the hobby of model railroading.”
Once Macy’s bought Famous-Barr in 2006, discontinued that brand and ultimately shuttered the Railway Exchange operation in 2013 – sadly ending a century of downtown retail history – the stewardship of the train display transferred to the museum. The museum has since faithfully reassembled the holiday rail-related happening each year in its central William R. and Laura Rand Orthwein Education and Visitor Center, just off Barrett Station Road.
The West County gem’s other holiday tribute to model railroading – named after the Missouri business executive, philanthropist, civic leader and train enthusiast who died in 2010 at the age of 92 – involves the ever-evolving E. Desmond Lee Holiday Train Exhibit. It sprawls in all its enormous grandeur in the museum’s Earl C. Lindburg Automobile Building, due south of the Orthwein center.
Scale models often incorporate locomotives, tracks and signaling, with rolling stock and streetcars, against landscaping that includes countryside, urban scenes, roads and bridges, buildings, vehicles, model figures, lights and features such as tunnels, rivers, hills and canyons.
County restrictions on occupancy, the museum website states, necessitate advance registration ticketing there “on the peak dates” between now and the arrival of 2021 – in specific, fully 11 days in the remainder of December. (Excluded are Dec. 24 and Christmas, when the museum closes, perhaps to avoid stealing thunder from Santa Claus’ Polar Express.)
Beyond its model railroading displays, the local museum’s website states that its holdings top “190 major exhibits,” adding that it boasts “the largest collection of transportation vehicles in the world.” Not only railroad glories of the past but also automobiles, aircraft and watercraft await visitors. Full rail cars there run a glorious gamut from locomotives to freight cars to passenger cars to gondolas to refrigerator cars to cabooses.
The museum takes as its tagline “The Power to Move You” – and children of all ages may indeed be moved in visiting it for the Yule salute to … well … choo-choos!
National Museum of Transportation, 2933 Barrett Station Road, St. Louis, 314-965-6212, tnmot.org