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All the livelong day: Trains zoom through W.Va. scenery at local exhibit

By Megan Workman
Lawrence Pierce
Bryson Peters, 6, left, and his father, Jason Peters, visited the Kanawha Valley Railroad Association's model train display for the first time Saturday. Both father and son couldn't believe how real the exhibit -- at the KVRA's clubhouse, 1800 Coonskin Dr. -- looked.
Lawrence Pierce The model train display features everything West Virginia, including a downtown Charleston circa the 1950s.
Lawrence Pierce Bob Sutler, a member and treasurer of the Kanawha Valley Railroad Association since it started 35 years ago, said the model train display area right behind him would soon feature a chemical plant. The exhibit has had few changes in the last 12 years, he said.
Lawrence Pierce Coal mining is one of the many West Virginia staples on display at the model train exhibit.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Renee Dolin Peters remembers watching the steam engines roll by her childhood home in Marmet, making the windows rattle.

Peters would lay a coin on the tracks to watch it be flattened in an instant. Miles before the first train horn was heard, Peters would put her ear on the tracks to listen to the distinct ringing sound.

Peters pondered those memories of her youth on Saturday at the 12th annual Holiday Open House model train display at Coonskin Park in Charleston. The Kanawha Valley Railroad Association hosts the holiday model train display at its clubhouse, 1800 Coonskin Dr. The event is free to the public.

For Peters, the 400-foot-long tracks of trains brought back memories of her father. He always knew the timing of when trains would pass by their house, Peters said. Her father died in 2009.

"My dad worked in the mines and he enjoyed trains," Peters said, standing next to a replica of the South Side Bridge. "Trains were always going by. I wish he were here because we would like this. I wasn't expecting anything like this when I came. This is very neat."

Her husband Jason Peters said he had never seen a model train display "to this extent" before. Jason Peters pointed to all of the details -- from the electric power wires that run throughout the display to the planes hanging in the sky -- that he couldn't believe looked so real.

He even recognized the old train station in the exhibit that represents Charleston in the 1950s.

The Peters -- who now live in Woodstock, Ill. -- take pictures on their cell phones when they visit West Virginia and Jason Peters found himself doing the same at the model exhibit.

"I'm always taking pictures of mountains on my phone while we're driving and now that's all I'm doing here. It's funny," Jason Peters said. "I want to send them to someone at home and see if they notice the picture is not real."

For the first time, the KVRA opened the model train display to the public on Thanksgiving weekend.

Bob Sutler -- a member and treasurer of KVRA since it started 35 years ago -- said the early opening date is to cater to grandparents who requested the change. Their grandchildren visit more during Thanksgiving than Christmas, he said.

More than 50 people showed up on Friday for the early start date, Sutler said.

People of all ages smile and "ooh and ahh" as they stare at the 28-by-50-foot model train exhibit, looking at every detail, he said.

The display is all West Virginia scenery: The New River Gorge, the town of Thurmond, the city of Charleston circa the 1950s, Green Valley Lumberyard, Pierce Mining, and more.

The detailed display includes mountains full of green trees, cars cruising, fire stations and, of course, trains chugging along.

Bria Peters, the Peters' 17-year-old daughter, appreciated the miniature people who sat on rocks along the Kanawha River.

The display, which sits in one large room, cost $20,000 when it was created more than 10 years ago, Sutler said.

Today, it cost about $2,000 to maintain it throughout the year.

Another smaller room in the back of the clubhouse has larger model train exhibits.

Elizabeth Battle and her son Josiah Martin, both of Charleston, watched the larger trains pass by as Battle pointed to an owl sitting on a roof.

The two -- who stopped by the clubhouse on their way to feed the ducks Saturday -- have visited the display for four years.

"I like all the details. It's just amazing how real it looks," Battle said.

Unlike 8-year-old Martin, the Peters' son, Bryson, 6, had never seen such a model train display before his first visit Saturday afternoon.

Standing on a stool in his red Chicago Bulls hoodie, Bryson Peters' eyes got big as another train passed by right in front of him.

"I only know Thomas the Train. My dad says I've been on a train before but I don't remember it," he said.

The clubhouse will be open throughout the month of December for the model train display on Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m., Fridays 6 to 9 p.m., Saturdays noon to 9 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 6 p.m. each week until Christmas.

Admission is free. Parking is free. The Kanawha Valley Railroad Association is a nonprofit organization and donations are accepted. For more information, call 304-539-6721 or visit www.kvrailroad.org.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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