Life in miniature is all around you when you visit a model railroad museum. The tracks and trains, tunnels and bridges are the main feature but from them sprout cities and farms, national wonders and flights of fancy. Nostalgia for what once was combines with the verisimilitude of what is. These small worlds are a delight for the eyes. Every region of the country seems to have at least one model railroad that you can visit and enjoy. Keep in mind that some of these museums are open year round while others are only open during the holiday season, or for seasonal shows.
Hartmann Model Rail Road and Toy Museum, North Conway, New Hampshire
Hartmann Model Rail Road and Toy Museum offers an extensive train collection with all different scales, from the smallest up to large trains riding around the property. You will enjoy the creative train layout. When you are there, you can also have a meal at Glen Junction where there’s a toy train that runs around the cafe. Hartmann is ideal for families, as well as train buffs; consider combining your visit here with the White Mountain Train ride up to the notch. North Conway is a year round delightful destination with shops, restaurants, quaint New England hotels like the historic Cranmore Inn, hikes up Mount Washington, and of course, skiing in season.
Bay State Model Railroad Museum, Boston, Massachusetts
Bay State Model Railroad Museum is open seasonally. Look for their next open house event on March 5 & 6, 2016. The display shows friendly neighborhoods, beautiful landscapes, and, of course, railroads in three different scales. The city of Boston is chock full of history and scenery. The Freedom Trail beckons as does Old North Church. You can also ride the “T”, for a full sized rail experience. Head out to Lexington and Concord before you head home.
National Toy Train Museum, Strasburg, Pennsylvania
National Toy Train Museum presents a huge train collection with an array of models from the 1800s up until today. There are five interactive, operating train layouts, in G, Standard, O, S and HO Gauges. You can also watch videos on all aspects of model railroading. After you see the miniature trains, see all the full sized ones and then take a ride on the Strasburg Railroad. When you are in Strasburg, Lancaster County’s Pennsylvania Dutch Country is all around you. Don’t go home without seeing a horsed with a buggy behind, and enjoying a slice of shoofly pie.
Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum, Gibsonia, Pennsylvania
Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum is having their 28th annual holiday shows right now, including a Twilight Show (through January 17, open most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. For Thomas the Tank Engine fans, Thomas and his friends, the museum offers interactive displays. They have two different wooden train tables where children can learn the rules of the road as they explore, roundhouses, bridges and industries. Additionally, they can race Thomas and Percy around a HO layout. You are within a very short drive of Pittsburgh with all of its museums, shops and restaurants. Consider a drive up Mt. Washington to see the view that looks exactly like the world’s largest train layout, and no wonder, since it inspired much of the train layout at the Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum.
Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois
The Great Train Story at the Museum of Science and Industry is a beloved destination in Chicago, Illinois. The Museum of Science and Industry’s original model railroad was the largest of its kind in the world when it opened in 1941. It continues to thrill generations of visitors. There are many fun and humorous details like friends frolicking on the beach, to a man who is “Singin’ in the Rain”, to a den of Cub Scouts having a “bear” encounter— see if you can find them all. There’s so much more to see and do in Chicago, from the river boat tour of the city to some the best restaurants anywhere.
Twin City Model Railroad Museum, St. Paul, Minnesota
Twin City Model Railroad Museum has been a work in progress for 81 years and counting; everything on the Bandana layout is made from scratch including all of the historic Twin Cities landmarks. It is truly a labor of love. Everything represents St. Paul-Minneapolis, with its charming neighborhoods, towns and landscapes, with great trains running everywhere. While in St. Paul, you will also want to visit the breathtaking Cathedral of St Paul by one of America’s best but least known architects, Emmanuel Louis Masqueray; also see the Como Park Zoo, and the Minnesota History Center.
Colorado Model Railroad Museum, Greeley, Colorado
Colorado Model Railroad Museum provides literally miles of model trains running through scenes of towns, industry and countryside. Some of the displays are interactive. When you enter, you can pick up a scavenger hunt paper to search for details of the creative layout settings – a great way for both kids and adults to not miss any of the charm. Look for a forest fire with “smoke”, a group of hobos camping by the trains, and people pushing cars over the cliff to dump them. While in Greeley, hike the Poudre River Trail, and see the full-sized Centennial Village Museum.
Bellingham Railway Museum, Bellingham, Washington
Bellingham Railway Museum is a fantastic wonderland of trains, with a layout that includes a miniature logging operation, and a small village with clever business names, such as Lucy’s Chew-Chew Caboose Café (Good Food Served in a Cupola Minutes) and the Curl up and Dye Beauty Parlor (We’re Beauticians, Not Magicians!); and even characters from “The Wizard of Oz”. Among its other wonders, Bellingham offers Whatcom Falls Park, Fairhaven Historic District, and scenic boat tours. Oh yes, and you will get a “charge” out of the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention.
Golden State Model Railroad Museum, Point Richmond, California
The Golden State Model Railroad Museum has a layout of 10,000 square feet of operating model trains. It is a fun-filled and inexpensive outing for young and old. There’s lots of room for children to expend energy as they follow the model trains along their routes. The layout represents areas in the San Francisco area, with great old buildings and train stations. The trains run every Sunday from December though April. Nearby, visit San Francisco, Oakland and the Sonoma Valley. Be sure to ride the famous trolleys.
San Diego Model Railroad Museum, San Diego, California
San Diego Model Railroad Museum is a hidden gem in San Diego. There are a number of working model railways in different scales, and a layout that shows much of San Diego’s and California’s history. It is a trip back in time. Look for the clever details like the overturned chicken truck, the shark in a swimming pool, and Superman in a phone booth, changing his clothes. Before you say farewell to San Diego, see Balboa Park, the Zoo, and the old mission, and go out to Coronado for a meal at the Del.