“We have a steady stream of people on (a regular) Saturday, but nothing like this,” said museum executive director Richard Banz.
Banz was expecting more than 1,500 people to see the third annual Trains! Trains! Trains! event, a model railroad show featuring nine displays, several of which could be operated by children.
Banz said he came up with the idea for Trains! Trains! Trains! after attending a model train show that was hands off.
“I saw moms and dads with little kids, and everybody was saying ‘Don’t touch it,’” he said. “So we wanted something that was much more family oriented rather than sale oriented.”
While the event did have vendors selling model train equipment, they were mostly in rooms in off-the-beaten path parts of the museum. Families always knew where to find the train sets by following train tracks taped on the museum floor.
“It’s great from a history perspective,” said Emily Moore of Alpharetta, who came to the event for the first time with her husband, Scott, and 3-year-old son Grant. “It’s wonderful to have events like this, so they can learn their history from a young age and grow up with it.”
Jonathan Allen of Crawfordville, Fla., south of Tallahassee, was attending classes on outboard motors with Yamaha in Kennesaw when he came across the museum. He knew he had to bring his son Chance, 5, to see it.
“Ever since he was 1-and-a-half, he’s been all about trains,” Allen said.
“They’re so cool!” Chance added after spending time controlling one of the model trains.
Chance’s mother, Amber Allen, said trains are educational,
“Honestly, I think it’s made him a little more intelligent, because he’s aware of more details,” she said.
While Chance already appears sold, representatives from the Lionel Collectors Club of America were on hand to help get more kids interested in model trains. Al Kolis, the club’s past president who came to the event from Howell, Mich., said he is working with the Southern Museum on possibly bringing in a permanent model train exhibit.
“What I think is neat about the hobby is kids using their imagination,” Kolis said.
Bob Keller of Kennesaw, another member of the Lionel club, said he has been collecting model trains since he turned 5 in 1953. He said the hobby teaches skills that can be used over a lifetime.
“When you get involved with trains, you learn carpentry, you learn electrical, you learn scenery,” he said. “It can lead to lots of things you can do with your hands. It’s like building an empire.”
The largest train set was 48-by-24 feet, taking up much of a special events room in the museum, with much smaller versions for young children. The event also had crafts that for kids that wanted to make their own engineer’s hats or train backdrops.
Of course, Banz hopes that families that came to the Southern Museum for Trains! Trains! Trains! will see other exhibits that will make them want to come back in the future.
“Any interest in trains helps us in promoting what we do,” he said.