'Great Trains' will come around the tracks at Wilton Historical Society
A lot of trains will be rumbling into Wilton this weekend. The Wilton Historical Society is hosting an exhibition of model trains that will run among the various buildings at the complex at 224 Danbury Road.
Inside the lower level of the barn, Steve Desloge has been working on setting up the displays of antique trains.
Nearby sits a large model train display of Wilton in the 1890s that has been moved from the main building. The permanent display contains many of the landmarks familiar to both current and longtime residents.
The set has an enormous amount of detail and isn’t completely historically accurate, but the trains still run.
Bob Bucci is standing nearby, threading wire and making the tracks fit when he presses a button on his old set.
“Hey, the whistle works,” Mr. Desloge exclaims.
“We’re becoming the depository for antique sets. Bob just donated his.”
Other antique sets have truly historical value to Wiltonians. Former First Selectman Bob Russell has donated his, while the current first selectman, Bill Brennan, has also sent an old train set, believed to be from the late 1940s or early 1950s.
Mr. Brennan’s set includes buildings that he built himself.
“He’s an artist,” Mr. Desloge said. “He’s a very creative guy.”
Hammers continue to pound various gauges of tracks together, and with only a few days left, time is getting tight.
The antique piece in the lower level of the barn is a new element, bringing the number of total layouts for the event to more than 15.
Planning for the train show began in early October with weekly brainstorming sessions. Assembly began on Nov. 4. Earlier this week, many of the sets were up and ready to go, with Plexiglas, skirting and decorations to still install. Trains were still being tested, and other surprises were still being worked out.
Those surprises are generally buttons for kids (and adults) to press to activate various things.
“We try to make it as interactive as possible, Mr. Desloge said.
Once those final preparations are in place, the Great Trains Holiday Exhibit will begin chugging away. The show will open on Nov. 30 and continue until Jan. 20. Children under 12 will get in free. Members may also attend for free, while admission for nonmembers is $10.
“It’s not just the younger faces but it’s the dads who are immediately brought back to their childhoods. Or the grandfathers or grandparents,” Mr. Desloge said.
While there are plenty of new trains that will run, these fascinating older trains, and the various instruments and accessories that go with them, are in very good shape to add extra context to the train show, now well into its second decade.
“For 15 years or so, we’ve had train guys putting stuff together,” he added. “This year they created a decorations committee.”
Cindy Finnecy and Donna Harakas are the co-chairs of the committee who will make their way into the barn to add trees and other festive touches. They’re still in the main building, putting wreaths up.
Upstairs in the barn, Mr. Desloge showed a train that is being assembled on the floor. Sawdust is spread around the floor of the barn.
This train, however, isn’t staying there. It will be set up outside, in an area set aside just for it, that will add an extra element to entice visitors as they move between buildings.
“It will stay out here and get rained on, but the track can stay outside,” he said. “We might not run it in the rain or snow, but it’s meant to be outside. The track is called a G gauge or ‘garden gauge.’ People buy them to put outside.”
Moving back into the main building, Mr. Desloge showed off the large display of Herb Roome, a longtime train man who died only recently.
Paul Lourd, who assembles many of the electrical works, including the buttons that visitors will press, strolled over as Mr. Desloge asked a question.
“Is the camera on?” he asked.
“It chews up a lot of battery,” Mr. Lourd said.
Indeed, a train rolling around Mr. Roome’s set, coming under the mountain to go past the circus big top, has a camera on it.
“Come here, Mr. Desloge said. “Pretend you’re about 4 years old and look at the TV set.”
The TV — a monitor at the far end of the room — shows the progress of the engine as it makes its way to where a child can have his or her close-up.
“Wave to yourself,” Mr. Desloge said.
Also on this display is the Hogwarts Express, the train that takes students between London and Hogsmeade station in the Harry Potter books and movies.
Mr. Desloge said the display is the work of more than 15 people, all volunteers dedicated to the love of model trains.
The main building will also include many more antiques, serving for the continued blend of old and new. Mr. Lourd and Mr. Desloge are able to get an engine they believe is from 1926 to roll around the track.
“That run won’t be able to run through the show though,” Mr. Lourd said. “It’s very old-school technology and extremely rare, but it’s also very worn. It will run for a while but it won’t survive.”
Program and communications coordinator Katherine Demo at the historical society has also been along for the tour of the various displays and marveled at the whole thing.
“It’s incredible,” she said. “But we’re not done yet.”
One last room is in the back of the main building, where the original model of Wilton was located. This room will serve in part as a space for the younger kids where a popular face makes an appearance.
On cue, Thomas the Tank Engine rolls around the tracks, pulling his trusty coaches Annie and Clarabel.
Wooden trains will be in this room also, for the children to play with.
“The show keeps us busy, and it keeps us entertained,” Mr. Desloge said. “Then we get to entertain, and that’s the best part.”
“It’s very exciting,” Ms. Demo added. “We can’t wait. It’s my first year seeing it. The donations are outstanding, and everyone tells me that this will be best year yet.”
The train show will be open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 to 4, and Sundays from noon to 4.
Information: wiltonhistorical.org or 203-762-7257.