Exploring the collections of the Mercantile Library:

Celebrating National Model Railroad Month
Model Trains are associated with the holidays in North America.  Much of it has to do with “Christmas Gardens” which had been a German tradition and was brought with them to America in the 19th Century.  Eventually this evolved from a religious garden of the “Nativity Scene” to additions of secular surroundings like houses and local buildings of significance. 
 
In the late 19th Century the mania for trains in Europe and America led toymakers to begin producing toy trains and soon these items found themselves as part of the Christmas Garden under the tree.  Eventually some toy train enthusiasts chose not to take down their Christmas Garden and it became a toy train layout and the hobby of model railroading was started.
The Fry Family train layout, ca. 1985.
The hobby grew in the 1910s and 1920s with companies like Ives, Marx Toys, Lionel and American Flyer producing sturdy, reliable and more accurate toy trains. By the 1930s specialist companies began to appear that allowed even more advanced hobbyists to make very accurate model trains that were very close to prototype appearance.
 
The model railroad hobby we know today evolved due to the advances in electronics, plastics and the baby boom of World War Two. The hobby was an affordable indoor family activity and was promoted as a way for parents and children to enjoy time together.  Many of those children had to put their trains away when they went off to college in the 1960s and 1970s and the hobby experienced a decline in popularity, but never disappeared. 
Left: Barriger Curator Nick Fry and his father Bob at Nick's grandparents' house with his uncle's train layout. Right: Nick Fry and his younger brother Ben, at the controls of the Fry Family Christmas train layout.
Model Trains saw a resurgence of popularity in the 1990s as computers and improved electronics made their appearance in the hobby.  Light and sound systems evolved, smokestacks on locomotives worked better thanks to better machinery and improved design and the hobby saw the overt endorsement of several high profile fans such as rock and rollers Rod Stewart and Neil Young.  Further growth was due to the amazing popularity of programs like Thomas and Friends which saw Ringo Starr appear in households every day as Mr. Conductor narrating a story about the railroad on the island of Sodor that was populated by sophisticated model trains.
With many of the members of the Baby Boomer generation now having retired and enjoying their newfound free time and disposable income, many old boxes of trains were brought out of storage. Soon these trains were running again with multiple generations enjoying the hobby together as a family.
Nick's father Bob with his nephew Cillian at Train Day in
Damascus, MD with Bob's Lionel Train layout running.
The library has several collections of model trains, notably the Ralph Barker Collection on display in the Barriger Collection area and the Leo Myers models scattered throughout the first and second floors. The Myles Collection makes an appearance in special exhibitions and will be part of our 2022 exhibit in New York. We also have many books on the subject if you’re interested in learning more or getting started in the hobby.


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Historic Archives, and Fine Art; Forming an
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Railroad and Pott Inland Waterways Libraries
and the Mercantile Library Art Museum.
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