Bob Esposito performs maintenance on one of the seven operating trains. Several eras of railroading equipment are represented in the layout, ranging from the 1920's through current day.
The young have Thomas the Tank Engine and the older crowd has fond memories of Lionel and American Flyer trains racing their way around the Christmas tree. No matter what your age, you may also have a warm spot in your heart for The Little Engine That Could.
Trains, particularly model trains, have been capturing people’s attention since they were first introduced by German crafters back in the 1830’s. And a large model train display is continuing that tradition by putting smiles on the faces of visitors in East Greenville this Christmas.
Created by Cliff Weber of Upper Hanover, the display had its origins at the Hometown Christmas celebration in Pennsburg. Weber, a lifelong train enthusiast, said he wanted to share his love of trains with the community.
“I had Lionel trains when I was a kid. My brother and I actually had two trains but no house to put it in,” he joked of the lack of space. “They’re just fun.”
The elaborate display, which changes each year, moved to B & H Market four years ago. This year it features 1,300 sq. ft. with five trains, including two classic B&O steam engines, along with a 1940’s Septa trolley and a rail diesel car (RDC), a self-propelled passenger car.
The trains are all G scale, the largest model gauge used widely in this country.
“My son has been asking about it since July; ‘When are the trains coming?’” said Bambi Bitt-ner of East Greenville who came to B&H Friday morning with her 3-year-old, Christopher. “We love the trains.”
“I like the fire trucks, my daddy drives a fire truck,” said 4-year-old Jack Cordero of Pennsburg, pointing out other things of interest. “Look at the garage over there too!”
“It’s amazing,” said Elaine Myers of Red Hill of the display. She took in the exhibit with her husband, Merrill, and 3-month-old granddaughter Sarah. “I didn’t imagine anything like this. When I was a kid my dad took us to Roadside America every year. I still love it.”
The layout, which is planned beginning November 1 each year, was designed by Weber and Pennsburg resident Bob Esposito, also an avid model railroader. The two built the infrastructure of the exhibit with foam, chicken wire, framing and the like and covered parts with burlap and natural elements like moss and dried plants.
Several bridges, including a new 12-foot red span and a gray span, allow the track to cover three levels with tunnels.
The tunnels were a favorite of 3-year-old Ryan Cairns, who intently followed each train with his grandfather, John Cairns.
“He loves coming up here,” John said. “This is our second time this year.”
Farms, retail establishments, a junkyard, fire department and a hobo camp are among the display’s components and contain both store-bought models and pieces and handmade ones, like the fence and roof of the junkyard.
“I hand cut and painted the fence out of fir,” Esposito noted, saying he likes to mix his own colors. “The roof is corrugated paper, which is hand-painted and dry brushed for weathering. I like the detail.”
Dozens of models of cars and trucks also contribute to the display. Area businesses are represented in models or through billboards, including the Pennsburg Diner, Schultheis’ Carriage House, Gardner’s Candies, Kerver’s Oil and B & H Market, to name a few.
“It brings familiarity, a sort of comfort level for the community,” said Weber of the local flavor.
But not only locals come to see the display. According to B&H owner Brian Bitting, visitors hail from Lansdale, Quakertown and Allentown, but also from as far away as Washington and Colorado, as they plan holiday visits around seeing the exhibit.
Some stay half an hour, some stay two hours examining all the immense detail and artistic elements that go into the layout.
“Most predominantly people say thank you,” Bitting said of their reaction. “They are incredulous about how much is here. It’s a credit to these people [Weber and Esposito] and all they do.
“The good will is hard to measure,” he said of his reasoning for giving up valuable retail floor space to the layout. “I’ve always been active in the community, but this is in the true spirit of Christmas. It’s good for everybody.”
Weber said he couldn’t agree more. While the amount of hours he, Esposito and assembler Reenie Edelman of Upper Hanover put into the yearlong project couldn’t be counted, it is well worth all the hard work.
“My favorite part is when it’s all set up,” Weber admitted with a laugh. “But seriously, the best part is the stories that people have, especially if they’re older. It’s the neatest thing.”
Hereford resident Christine Peters said she and her husband, Earl, came from railroading backgrounds in McKeesport outside Pittsburgh. Earl’s father was an engineer for P&LE Railroad (Pittsburgh and Lake Erie) and her father was a coal miner.
“I used to ride a passenger car to work every day,” she said, motioning to a line of B&O passenger cars. “I remember we cried when they took the caboose away…This is just beautiful.”
The holiday display can be seen, free of charge, at B&H at 30 E. 4th Street, East Greenville, during regular business hours. It will be open until mid-January, Weber said.
“It’s a phenomenal success,” he noted. “I never though it would be.”