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Annual holiday train display at Museum Center marks 75th anniversary

man in red shirt reaches into a model train display to add powdered fake snow
Tana Weingartner
A trainmaster adds more snow to the winter train scene.

Cincinnati's annual holiday train display is back for its 75th anniversary year. The Duke Energy Holiday Trains and accompanying Holiday Junction open Friday.

The display began in 1946 as a public relations effort by the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad. It's one of the largest portable models in the world.

Ross Wharfield is a trainmaster coordinator, meaning he helps set up the annual display and runs the trains. He joined the team in 2009 and remembers visiting the trains as a child and later bringing his own kids.

"I feel like I'm passing along history to folks," he says. "We are the caretakers; we're passing this along so the next generation can enjoy it just as much as the prior generations passed it along so I could enjoy it."

While the trains now have a permanent home at the Cincinnati Museum Center, it still takes several months to get them ready each season.

"Back in our workshop we have two gentlemen who their sole duty is to repair and maintain the equipment because most - I'd say 95% - of the trains on there were built in the mid-1930s... and there's nowhere to go to get parts. You can't go to Hobby Lobby and say 'Give me a part for a 1937 locomotive.' "

When parts break, the trainmasters have to make the replacement pieces themselves. They also run the trains manually. Wharfield explains the set was used as a training tool for the Army as they prepared people to go to Europe and help run full-size train systems after World War II.

Wharfield enjoys reminiscing with people who also visited the trains as children, and watching young people experiencing them for the first time.

"I really, really enjoy to see the wonder on the small children's faces ... it's such a kick and makes you so happy to see them enjoying that."

a miniature railyard
Tana Weingartner
The rail cars, tracks and buildings are 1/48 actual size.

Fun facts courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

  • At 36 ½ by 47 ½ feet, the Duke Energy Holiday Trains are one of the largest portable models in the world.
  • The trains are authentic "O" gauge, meaning that a quarter-inch on the model is equivalent to one foot on a real train.
  • The rail cars, tracks and buildings are 1/48 actual size.
  • Though the trains may seem to travel slowly, they are traveling at actual scale speed. If a model train travels the loop in one minute, it is traveling at 60 mph.
  • During the holiday season, the trains will travel more than 100,000 scale miles.
overhead view of the main train display
Tana Weingartner
At 36 ½ by 47 ½ feet, the Duke Energy Holiday Trains are one of the largest portable models in the world.

What to know if you go

"Holiday Junction Featuring the Duke Energy Holiday Trains" is open Nov. 12, 2021, through Jan. 3, 2022. (Santa arrives Friday, Nov. 26.)

Museum hours are Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with select extended hours.

Tickets are limited and timed entry is required, as are masks, because of pandemic protocols. Tickets are $10 each for adults and children or $5 with the purchase of any other museum experience. Admission is free for CMC members.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.