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Christmas at the Roundhouse is nod to Hub City's railroad history

Christmas at the Roundhouse is nod to Hub City's railroad history

Christmas at the Roundhouse featuring the Trains of Christmas is a labor of love for the volunteers who make it happen each year. 

The annual event, which opened Friday, Nov. 17, and runs through Sunday, Feb. 18, at the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum, 296 S. Burhans Blvd., features three holiday displays, according to board member Walter Jackson, who is in charge of the Trains of Christmas. 

"There's been about nine of us working very hard to get this open today. So what you see today was a labor of love and an intensive effort of some of us," Jackson, 67, of Martinsburg, W.Va., said Friday at the museum. 

Although the Trains of Christmas is not new to the museum, the display has been updated in the past two years. 

"It used to change every year. And later, (the volunteers) decided that they were getting a little older and they didn't want to change it every year," Jackson said. "So they left it up and decided to just change some of the scenery out each year and then two years ago we decided that the track needed to be replaced. We ended up getting a grant to replace the track and in the process we decided we'd raise the layout up about six inches, so we built the benchwork, then I hand designed a new track layout."

The new layout was further modified with a computer design, which gave exact track dimensions. 

"The grant we got (replaced) the track for all four levels, and then we rewired everything, put a lot of new bells and whistles in, and last year ... a lot of the old Christmas tree-style lights were replaced with the new LED lights," he said. 

Jackson said he and other volunteers have added more to the display. 

"We didn't get a lot of the things done last year that we hoped, but instead of having one streetcar line — we put two last year — and then this year we added a roadway with actual cars moving. We figured the more animation, the better," he said. 

A firehouse with a moving fire engine that visitors can operate was added, along with a drive-in theater, and more static cars on the display. 

This year, the mountain scene is complete, whereas last year Jackson used cotton batting to emulate snow-covered peaks at the top of the train display.  

Jackson's love of trains was spurred when he was a 3-year-old living with his family in Washington, D.C., and saw a circus train come to town. 

"I have every train I ever got as a child. I've added to the collection, they all run. In fact, I brought one of my engines in today and I'm running it on the layout along with three of my street cars that are on the layout," he said. 

Jackson, who is senior pastor at Wainwright Baptist Church in Charles Town, W.Va., said it's important to educate young visitors to the museum about railroad and other history through the Trains of Christmas. 

"For me, this reminds me of the displays of my childhood, back in department store windows. And this is the way I tell the kids when they come in, 'This is (what) you saw when I was a child in department store windows,'" he said. 

"There's some talking points that we have along the way. When we added the streetcars this year, I tell them there aren't many street car lines, there are some coming back, but growing up in D.C., that was the order of the day. So we use it as a teaching tool," he said.

In addition to the train room, there are two other displays in the museum.

 "We have the back room decorated. We have another display in the back room of a three-rail train. (Upstairs there is) a two-rail display, an O-scale, an HO display. Theres's a three-rail display that the children can operate by pressing buttons, and the HO display which has a replica of the roundhouse that used to be behind the building here, that was torn down in 1999. And so we talk about the history, and why Hagerstown is called the Hub City," Jackson said. 

If you go ...

WHAT: Christmas at the Roundhouse featuring the Trains of Christmas 
WHEN: 1 to 5 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Sunday, Feb. 18; also Tuesday, Dec. 26, through Thursday, Dec. 28; closed Sundays, Dec. 24 and 31
WHERE: Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum, 296 S. Burhans Blvd., Hagerstown
COST: $6 for adults; $1 ages 4 to 15; free admission for those ages 3 and younger
CONTACT: Call 301-739-4665
MORE: Visit with Santa Saturdays, Dec. 9 and 23; and Sunday, Dec. 17

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