Avid train collector Paul Almquist purchased several 1920s-era Lionel model trains a few years ago online.
“I originally picked those up on Craigslist a couple years back. They weren’t well taken care of, so there was some restoration done,” Almquist said.
With a bit of patience and care, Almquist has them running smoothly once again. His trains will be on display at the Holiday Toy Trains exhibit at the Chippewa Valley Museum, which opens today.
“A lot (of visitors) are amazed that toys that old can still run,” Almquist said. “But if you take care of your stuff, it will last. And they are well made.”
This year marks the fifth consecutive Holiday Toy Train exhibit. The trains, which all fit on a 2 1/8 inch-wide track, loop a large, 16-by-24-foot table in the middle of the room.
Chuck Lindvig’s model train collection takes up roughly half the space on the main table. Lindvig, 70, says he has been collecting trains and displays since he was 7. Lindvig and his wife, Ellen, were among several people erecting the train sets on Tuesday.
“It takes three days to set up,” Chuck Lindvig said. “But all year long, we are looking for things to put on the table. Or making things.”
The bulk of the Lindvigs’ winter train collection comes out of storage just for this show; it’s too large to have out in their house.
Chuck Lindvig said it is worth it when people arrive.
“It’s watching the families come in and seeing their expressions when they come in the door,” he said.
Almquist agreed that the reactions he sees are what make the hobby fun for him.
“There is just a fascination about trains that other things don’t have,” Almquist said. “Kids can sit and watch trains for hours. They like to follow it around.”
Almquist said some people really enjoy making the miniature scenery displays and showing off their creative side, while others simply love watching the trains. He pointed to a homemade old-fashioned water tower he constructed using popsicle sticks and a gallon-sized paint bucket.
“There are so many facets to it,” Almquist said. “It’s a worldwide hobby.”
Lindvig said they pitched the idea of a train exhibit a few years ago because he saw that attendance at the museum traditionally dipped between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
“The valley has so much of a railroad background, we thought there would be interest in this, young and old,” he said.
Museum director Carrie Ronnander said that in the past four years, the train exhibit has averaged drawing between 1,500 and 1,800 during the month-long show.
“It’s really become a family tradition for a lot of folks,” Ronnander said. “It’s fun because they can really get close to it. People are involved; they aren’t just spectators. It’s an all-ages type event.”