Cold rain fell Friday night, postponing ceremonies to celebrate the Christmas tree lighting on Town Hall, but at the nearby Fairfield Museum and History Center holiday cheer steamed ahead with the opening of the annual Holiday Express Train Show.
The event, which traditionally delights train buffs of all ages, continues through the holiday season until Jan. 5.
Leo "Yardmaster" Moerkens, one of 35 members of the Connecticut "G" Scalers model train club, on Friday evening was fine-tuning the group's five trains that navigate twisting tracks, miniature towns, trees, cars, people and animals.
Moerkens has been seriously involved in the hobby for the past 10 years, though his association with trains began much earlier. "I was born at the backside of a railroad station and my uncle was an engineer, so I was sort of stuck with trains," he said. "I had my first ride on his diesel freight train at age 10. It was very impressive."
Before that, Moerkens had model trains -- HO series in a 1:87 scale. "I had a small layout with houses as a kid, but lost interest during high school and college," said Moerkens, a Netherlands native. "When I moved to the U.S. in 1990, I started seeing train sets in hobby stores and it rekindled my interest. I bought a set and then got in touch with George Edgerton, who started the club in the early '90s. I began attending monthly meetings and seeing some of the members' layouts."
Among "G" Scalers, there are 17 operational layouts at members' homes and gardens across the state.
The "G" Scalers' trains are essentially twice the size of Lionel trains, according to Bill "The Engineer" Dressler. "At this year's show, we are featuring Thomas the Tank Engine and diesel and steam locomotives," he said. "There's also a musical Christmas tree and a camera mounted on one engine to broadcast track action and kids as they watch the trains."
The club's layout included 20-plus buildings that are part of Dressler's outside garden layout. Some of the names on signs along the tracks are those of relatives. "Tyler Falls Inn, for example, is where my grandson stepped in a creek; Mount St. Ellen points to my wife Ellen," he laughed.
Dressler noted there has been drop-off in spending on the model railroad hobby in recent years, citing cost and the popularity of electronics and new technologies. A couple of major manufacturers have also closed.
"Interestingly enough, though, there's been a simultaneous surge in collecting vintage trains, like LGB (Lehman Gross Bahn) sets, which originated the hobby of large scale trains that you could run outside," Dressler said.
With reference to the recent train derailment that resulted in four deaths and more than 60 injuries on Metro-North's Hudson line, Dressler commented, "We have total control over the operation of our trains, including the speed around corners. It's reasonable that similar controls could be applied to real-life trains to minimize potential for accidents."
The Holiday Express Train Show runs through Jan. 5 at the Fairfield Museum and History Center, 370 Beach Road. For the hours, admission fees and additional information, call the museum at 203-259-1598 or visit www.FairfieldHistory.org