By Kathy A. Schaeffer
For some reason, model trains and Christmas seem to "go together like a horse and carriage." The sentiment is no different in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, because in this central Pennsylvania old coal mining town, the model railroad display takes visitors back to the past every December. . . back to the days when the rail ruled, and back to a much less hectic period of time.
If you are anywhere near Northumberland County, a trip to the Lower Anthracite Model Railroad Club's layout found on East Independence Street in Shamokin is well worth the trip. If you are familiar with the Shamokin and Sunbury area the way it was in the 1950s era, it will be even more enjoyable because that is what's represented in this huge display done in HO scale.
The club was formed by fourteen men in 1978 and soon they were starting to build a display that could be transported around to different locations. It was 10 x 22 ft. in size. After that, a larger layout was started and named the Pennsylvania and Anthracite Southern Railroad. A custom had begun and it just kept expanding year after year.
Construction of the layout that is currently shown to visitors during the holiday season began in mid 1986. Club members, in order to help guests get an idea of where various points of interest were located, started building some landmark buildings that were in the area in the mid 1950s. Each holiday season that they opened the display to the public, more people came, and more ideas were offered to them for things to add to the display. It was exciting for people to see buildings that were recognizable. For some of the older visitors, memories of the buildings were recalled for the way they looked in the 50s, and for younger people, many of the same buildings were recognizable as they still look and are standing today.
Interest in the exhibit as well as word about its existence spread rapidly over the years. Today, more than four thousand visitors stop by to view it each holiday season. Some of the guests simply love model trains and watching them run on such a grand level. Others enjoy remembering how the area looked fifty years ago. And still others are drawn because of that ever-present "horse and carriage" thing concerning model trains and Christmas. Many of the baby boomers viewing the layout remember playing with model trains especially during the holidays, and the older visitors often share tales about the Christmas trees of old not being complete without having a working model train on the floor beneath its branches.
The current display, "The Shamokin Lines" is 3,000 square feet in area. The display's representation starts at the Pennsylvania Railroad yards in Northumberland, the model trains continue to Sunbury across the Susquehanna River, and past Shamokin and Mt. Carmel. The presentation sports 1,400 feet of railroad track and hundreds of local buildings and landmarks.
Shamokin is located 65 miles from the state capital of Harrisburg, 85 miles from the Pocono region and Scranton, 127 miles from Philadelphia, and 100 miles from the Penn State home of State College. Be sure to check with the club for the schedule because the display is only open certain nights of the week near the holidays. To date, entrance has been free with a donation box available.
Generations of children have looked forward to having a model train set up beneath the Christmas tree. For as long as there have been railroads, there have been children playing with train toys. Even in Victorian days, children pulled toy trains with strings. There's something about that clicking sound a train makes on the tracks, or the train whistle blowing that brings out a feeling of nostalgia in many folks when thinking about trains.
The German toy maker, Marklin, started manufacturing the model train we recognize today (complete system with tracks, etc.) in 1891. Three different gauges of these tinplate trains were made in the beginning and then the O gauge was added a few years later. In a relatively short time, other manufactures and some from the United States such as Lionel, Ives, and American Flyer started making their own lines of model trains and the tradition of model railroading had begun.