It's all aboard in Ellicott City

Holiday Festival of Trains at museum is on track for its November opening

October 27, 2006|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN REPORTER

Surrounded by cans of spray paint, a staple gun, a utility knife and jars of fuzzy green foam "ground cover," Tony Zingarelli perched on a wooden platform in the car house of the B&O Railroad Museum's Ellicott City Station and carefully glued strips of cardboard to the side of a papier mache mountain.

In the coming weeks, the cardboard will be covered in layers of newspaper coated with a mixture of quick-setting drywall compound and water. That structure will then be painted, forested with miniature trees and criss-crossed by train tracks to become one part of a 252-square-foot display for the museum's Holiday Festival of Trains.

From Nov. 24 through Jan. 28, thousands of visitors will stream onto a narrow walkway around the model and watch as many as a dozen trains zoom around a 5-foot-tall mountain peak, a broad valley, bridges, tunnels, towns and - new this year - a curved aqueduct.

Before that happens, a three-man construction team and several more volunteers are spending the weeks between Labor Day and Thanksgiving creating the miniature world.

"Every year, it gets changed," said Tom Sellars of Catonsville, who has worked on the display for 18 years. "The whole object of what we do is to draw people back year after year."

Sellars said the design begins with an overall concept and then, "we're just winging it from there. ... We just do it as we go."

Zingarelli, of Perry Hall, said Sellars is the chief carpenter while he takes advantage of his smaller build to "get in all the tight spots" and touch up the many details.

Larry Harrington of Kingsville is the trio's electronics expert who gets the trains, crossings, lights and other automated elements to work with the turn of a key.

The museum's festivities will feature a Thomas the Tank Engine display, a smaller "N" scale train layout being constructed off-site by another group of volunteers and an exhibit on scale models and toy trains.

"It's the biggest exhibit that we have [at the Ellicott City museum]," said Dave Shackelford, the chief curator. He estimated that in previous years, half of the Ellicott City site's 25,000 visitors came during the holiday time.

This year, he expects even larger numbers because the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in the city took over management of the Howard County museum in February, and members receive free membership to both locations. The downtown site has a holiday train festival, as well.

The visitors make the hours of work - often late into the night during the final "crunch time" - worthwhile, Sellars said.

"That's what it's for," he said, "the kids and the big kids."

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