model train set on track

Holiday Festival of Trains

e*Train Issue: May 2007   |   Posted in:

By Jane Boyce, Director of Development, TCA

What is 40 feet x 32 feet x 12 feet tall and includes over 700-2’x4’s, 143-4’x8’ sheets of insulating Styrofoam, 783 brass hinges, one-half mile of electrical wire, 343 six foot redwood fence boards, over 1,000 feet of train tracks, 8 tiers and took six weeks to build?  Stumped?  It was the “Holiday Festival of Trains” exhibit built by the Western Division of the Train Collectors Association at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California.  And, if you didn’t have the opportunity to see it, you really missed something special!

I had the wonderful opportunity to fly out to California in early January and experience this magical journey through the world of miniature trains in person.  My hosts, Wayne Sheriff and Bob Lemberger from Western Division filled me in on all the details and even invited me to crawl (which I did!) into the center of the display to see the inner-workings myself.  I learned that Bob Lemberger actually came up with the design for the “Tower of Trains” himself and that it took 9 volunteers six weeks to put it all together.

4000 watts of power keep 11 trains and 2 trolleys operating and light the scenery and buildings.   The framework that makes up the tiered tower is wood construction.  Five Gauges appear on the layout.  They are “G”, Standard, “O”, “S”, and “On30”.  Department 56 provided three village collections for the display.  They include the North Pole Village, Christmas in the City and Snow Village.  Over 150 buildings, including a 1950’s Marx Circus Set appear on the display and more trees than anyone could count!

The display also included a rare showing of the Lilly Belle, Walt Disney’s miniature steam locomotive built in 1949 that he enjoyed in his own backyard in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, CA on weekends.  Pictures of Walt Disney riding his train with family and guests covered the walls.  This was a special loan courtesy of the Disney Family Foundation.  Named after his wife, Lillian, the train inspired Walt to consider building a small park to operate the Lilly Belle adjacent to his studios in Burbank, CA.  When the city fathers objected, a larger site was selected in Anaheim, CA.  Opened in 1955, Disneyland might not exist if it wasn’t for Walt’s beloved little train.  That is why it is sometimes referred to as the “little engine that started an empire.”

While visiting the display, we met a Jim McLoone who is the train engineer for the train at Disney World.  He had flown in from Florida just to see the Lilly Belle exhibit and was to return to Florida that same evening.  This was a very special exhibit!

Also an original panel piece from the Monorail Red from Disneyland was displayed courtesy of Bob Gurr, the monorail’s technical designer.  In 1959, then Vice-President Richard Nixon and Walt Disney cut the ribbon for the inaugural run of the “Disneyland Alweb Monorail System.”  The operating model monorails were manufactured in Germany in the 1960’s.

A special 70 foot “Wall of Trains” featured the fabulous rare collection of the late Thomas W. Sefton of San Diego on loan from the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento, California.   Along with the Sefton Collection were many model trains dating from the early 1900’s to the present day on loan from Western Division TCA members.  They include Standard gauge, “O” gauge and “S” gauge trains from manufacturers such as Ives, Lionel, American Flyer, Marx and more.

I must say that this display was nothing short of SPECTACULAR!  And, I encourage everyone to put it on their “must see” lists for the 2007 Christmas holiday season.  Yes, the Western Division of TCA has been invited to do another display next year!  Believe me, you won’t want to miss it!