model train set on track

Behind the Scenes at the TCA Museum – Special Days

e*Train Issue: May 2006   |   Posted in:

By Roy Aydelotte 79-14175

From time to time the National Toy Train Museum (NTTM) receives special requests. Most are passed to the Education and Museum (E&M) Committee for action. On one occasion in early February 2006 we were able to help.

In late January, I was having one of many discussions with John Luppino, our Operations Manager for TCA. As we were winding up the discussion I asked if there was anything else that he had. “Yes,” he replied, he had just received a call from the “Make A Wish Foundation”. They were hoping we could open the Museum to allow for a young boy’s wish to come true. “You bet!” was the enthusiastic reply. We are normally closed January through March so we can work on a lot of our behind the scenes activities.

The “Make A Wish Foundation” works to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. They can be found on line at: The initial wish of this young man was to go to Disney World with his family. Unfortunately that was not feasible and his second wish was to spend a day visiting trains in Strasburg, PA. This included stops at the Strasburg Railroad, the National Toy Train Museum, and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

As luck would have it, the chosen day was a work weekend with little planned as most of the volunteers were anticipating spending time with family and watching the Super Bowl. In addition, one of our Committee members knew the family and volunteered to come in and help out. Of course we had to do more than just open the Museum.

On the appointed day, we arrived early to clean up our winter mess so we would be presentable. Not everything was working due to winter projects and some rebuilding, but we had most of it ready. The NTTM was second on the venue for the special kid and his family. They arrived in the “Make A Wish” limousine (donated by another organization) with the young man second through the door. My introduction was to our special guest, Jack Harmon, a five year old who was wide eyed with both apprehension and anticipation.

During the next 90 minutes, we did our best to accommodate this special young man, his three siblings and parents. He was all over the Museum and must have hit every button at least twice. His older brother and father were also interested in trains. In talking with the mother and father, I learned that his young son had been interested in trains for most of his life. It seems Dad had an HO train that was all but destroyed during “playtime.” And the interest in trains continued unabated.

Peter Taraborelli, our youngest member and previously a kid’s club member, spent a lot of time with our Jack. During our preparation time, we decided that if something was not working right, or the interest arose, Peter was to remove any protective shields and let the young man help fix things. More wide eyes at this opportunity! We have an N gauge train on the G layout that now has a fresh load of ballast in the gondolas and some help with the HO layout too!

That’s Peter showing Jack and his sister the Standard Gauge layout.

Keith Arnold worked to make our young enthusiast an Honorary Kid’s Club member. As the family was getting ready to leave, he was presented with the Kid’s Club certificate and identification card. He was more interested in the TCA Kid’s Club Membership Car than the certificate. Mom took the certificate as he clutched the car. About this time, his shyness overtook his interest and he hid behind his older sister. Despite attempts to the contrary, he would not come forward to receive his other two gifts. An engineer panda bear was accepted by his younger sister, and his older brother accepted a Brio set that will go with his existing trains.

With all the excitement over, the family departed for the next stop and we now have a special new member in the Kids’ Club! Another successful “Special Day” behind the scenes at the TCA National Toy Train Museum.

We are always interested in accepting new volunteers to this hard working committee. As this article shows there are opportunities for gratification that help make all the work worthwhile. If these kinds of “behind the scenes” activities are of interest to you, drop me a line ( [email protected] ) or give me a call at 410-923-0754. We are always looking for TCA’ers with interest, talent, and/or the desire to learn to help out at our TCA Museum.

“Epilogue:  Jack Harmon passed away on March 14, 2006.  He visited the NTTM on February 4.  The Make-A-Wish foundation has recently asked if we would again host a child next month.  Plans are in place to provide the support requested.”