model train set on track

Museum Technology Takes a Leap Through the Air

e*Train Issue: Oct 2019   |   Posted in:

By Melody Rogers, Museum Administrative Assistant            Fall 2016

As the showplace for the train collecting hobby, the National Toy Train Museum is focused on upgrading its exhibits to meet evolving expectations.  A major part of change is in technology. Power, wiring and controls have always been central to the operation of toy trains, but we’ve done several new things in the past year, which are recounted below.

Our most recent enhancement has been to offer visitors the ability to operate one of our O Gauge displays by WI-FI DCS, as a result of the generous assistance of MTH Trains. Any visitor with a smartphone or tablet may download an app from the Google Play or the Apple iTunes Store, and then operate an MTH diesel train, controlling speed, direction and sounds.

Instructions are posted, and easily followed.

As seen below, intuitive screens on the phone or tablet provide the visitor with options for operating the train. It takes just a couple of minutes for the visitor to set it up, and results have been very positive!

The system works by receiving the wireless signal from the phone and passing the code to the special power sent to the tracks, allowing the controls to function.

Aside from seeing and operating the train donated by MTH, behind the scenes the electronics also donated and installed allow this to happen. The hand-held controller in the left of this picture, while part of the system, is not in use in favor of the phone/tablet WIFI app. (Photo courtesy Classic Toy Trains, review in October 2016 edition.)

We feel that this not only brings the Museum forward, but communicates to visitors that toy trains are not something stuck in the past, and there’s lots of future evolution. It’s part of a process of ongoing improvement.

Very special thanks to Mike Wolf of MTH Trains for donating the train, a spare locomotive, and the electronics, as well as for installing the system for us! We also note that over the years, MTH has donated a substantial amount of the display equipment seen in the video above. This type of manufacturer support greatly facilitates our keeping abreast of the newest developments in toy trains!

    — Bob Lubonski, Chair, National Toy Train Museum Committee

Previous Enhancements

In addition to regularly adding new trains and layout features, the National Toy Train Museum has been introducing a series of technical improvements designed to make the visiting experience more attractive.

Earlier, we installed a motion detector to start up the Harry’s Hardware exhibit as a visitor walks by, which often causes the person to stop and wonder what’s going on, rather than walking on by. While relatively basic, many visitors enjoyed it.

More recently, we implemented an electronic control system using LED bulbs to simulate the Northern Lights. That’s been a real winner.