Traintastic – It’s Just Train Fun!
By Jonathan Kittrell, TCA# 18-73605 Winter e*Train 2024
On Sunday, July 9, 2023, after preaching for a friend of mine just south of Hattiesburg, MS, I journeyed to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to visit Traintastic who advertises themselves as “the largest and most exciting Model Train Museum in the world.” What was formerly known as the Mississippi Coast Model Railroad Museum re-opened to the public on Saturday, June 17, 2023 following a $3 million renovation/expansion.
Gulfport, MS, is known for man-made beaches, casinos, and an entry port for Chiquita Bananas from South America along the Gulf of Mexico. One mile inland, Gulfport is also the home to the Traintastic Interactive Railroad Museum located in a re-purposed shopping center. Although this museum has received a lot of media attention over the past year, I did not know what to expect. I had been visiting the previous location for the past decade when it was known as The Mississippi Gulf Coast Model Railroad Museum. I’ve watched them expand into more building and growing displays. I last visited in November 2021 when the museum partnered with the TCA-Louisiana Chapter for their first post-COVID model train show.
The Adventure Begins
I walked in the front door and got my 1-day pass wristband. The entry foyer and front exhibit room are large and inviting for the hopeful hundreds of visitors each day. After passing the ticket agents’ counter, you walk down a corridor into a life-sized Pullman car to watch a short video on model railroading and how Traintastic came to life.
I exited the Pullman to see the first exhibit area which is a 1,000 sq. foot replica of Highway 90 with over 50 custom built buildings and landmarks including Beauvoir, the Biloxi lighthouse, and Keesler Air Force Force Base. This layout, which purposely has at least two Dominos Pizza store on it, was designed over a two-year period by Glenn Mueller, one of the visionaries behind what has become Traintastic. The layout was constructed in Miami, FL and delivered in three semi-trucks in time for the grand opening. The other visionary behind Traintastic is Glenn’s brother, Richard. A sign is posted at the end of one of the parts of the layout which reads, “Phase 2 Link-up” teasing the visitor that the layout will continue to grow and transition.
Backstory to How Traintastic Came to Be
Richard and Glenn Mueller grew up in Lakewood, Ohio and moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1981 to organize RPM, Pizza, LLC, which now operates over 100 Dominos Pizza locations in Mississippi. Richard, the older of the two brothers, retired from being involved in the business full-time in 2003 leaving Glenn to continue to lead RPM even today. Throughout their years as brothers and business partners, they have used the philosophy of the Golden Rule of treated others as they would want to be treated. Richard and Glenn have generously given back to the community in many charitable ways. Their love for trains and to help others is how the seeds for Traintastic were sowed all the back in 1990. According to Glenn, who now serves as the President of the Traintastic Board of Directors:
There was a [model train] club here that was struggling and lost their location, so then Richard found a building on Pass Road in Gulfport: and that one building became two buildings and then three buildings. The membership went from a handful to over 50 members now who have volunteered their time, expertise, and even some of their trains to figure out how to make. . . [Traintastic] …something very special.
Continuing the Adventure
After viewing the 1,000 sq. ft. layout, you begin to understand that Traintastic has an appeal for all ages and encourages hands-on interaction. Adjacent to the layout are educational kiosks explaining the difference between model trains and toy trains, different gauges, types of track, and how to build a basic layout. There are even tables for you to assemble tracks, place building, and place toy trains upon to operate.
One wing of the museum is designed specifically for children and maybe for children of all ages. This allows for them to host birthday parties and special events for children both indoors and outdoors. The goal is to allow impressionable young minds (and anyone) the see how trains work and how people use trains. Although open with no safety precautions, this area is not complete. In order to explain how people use trains, kid-sized train cars have been and are being constructed with cut-aways. The components they had when I was there were the engine, club car, and mail car. They intend to add the dining car, caboose, and a flatbed train with a crane. The focal point of this whole section is the Climber which is “A wild tangle of ramps, nets, tunnels, slides, stairs, and railroad-themed play spaces.”
Once I saw all the educational and interactive exhibits, I spent the rest of my fun time there looking at over twenty operating layouts and historic displays. One layout is the largest LEGO railroad display in Mississippi and one of the largest in the United States. Another layout is a memory from the past as it was transported from the now closed Orange Grove Hobbies which was located in North Gulfport, MS, a few miles inland.
All of these layouts are owned and operated by club members; therefore, not all of them operate every day. Some of finished while others are being constructed and re-constructed. Each layout is unique and provides a glimpse into how creative model railroad enthusiasts can be. The layouts were all gauges and historical eras. I enjoyed looking at the displays and was intrigued by one display of items on loan from the family of Lieutenant Ralph J. Melie. Lt. Melie served during World War I with the American Red Cross Expeditionary Unit. When he returned from the war, he went to work for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as a train mechanic. When that company began to fail, he worked with the Lehigh Valley Central until his retirement in 1964. This display is his mementos from his service with these two railroads.
After exhausting myself looking at the layouts and going back through to look at them again, I prepared to exit but could not neglect to notice the S.T.E.A.M. room which offers daily lessons in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics and is sponsored in part by the Mississippi Power Foundation. I was truly impressed by the gift shop. While there is hardly a museum to not have a gift shop, this one offered S gauge train sets (I did not see any other gauge) by Lionel. I believe that the museum plants the seed and now the seed can be watered through the gift shop.
I had intended to write this article the week following my July 9, 2023, visit and tour of Traintastic because I wanted it to be freshest on my mind. But as I sat down to type my thoughts, I believe my senses and thoughts were in overload mode. I questioned whether I had been able to see and appreciate all that was there. I have had to spend a couple of months analyzing it all. I am glad have taken this time because: 1) Traintastic will be like most model train enthusiasts’ layouts – a work in constant progress and transition; 2) While it may be the world’s largest train museum, it is a tribute to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the railroad flags that have served this region.
For more information, please visit: https://traintastic.com/