Model train exhibit inviting for all ages

WHEELING – The ski slopes are covered with snow – the slopes at Oglebay’s Miniature Train and Village Display at the Good Zoo, that is.

The model train exhibit may be open year-round to visitors, but John Hargleroad, director of park operations, said seasonal changes, such as snow-covered ski slopes are among the unique features of the display that continue to draw in visitors.

Opened in 1980, the exhibit replaced what previously was a puppet theater. Due to the theater’s high operating cost, Oglebay chose to reconsider the purpose of the space.

“We wanted something broader to appeal to a variety of age groups,” Hargleroad explained.

Hargleroad particularly credits Don Busey, a manager, artist and “chief engineer” of the project, with “really envisioning what the exhibit is today.” In reconfiguring the space, Oglebay employees and volunteers alike worked to research train displays, elevate the puppet theater platform as a base for the exhibit and build the scenes that decorate the tracks.

“The detail is incredible,” Hargleroad said. “Some are assembled kits, others are hand-crafted and some are kits that have been altered.”

According to Hargleroad, those working on the project completed the exhibit for it to be opened for Thanksgiving in 1980.

Considering the nostalgia of model trains, Hargleroad explained the appeal is timeless.

“Older folks played with trains like these when they were younger, and kids get a kick out of the motion,” Hargleroad stated.

Personally, as Hargleroad knew many of the people who contributed their efforts to building the exhibit, he believes “there is also an appreciation of the artistry that goes into it.”

The exhibit, consisting of more than 900 feet of track with trains traveling almost 27 miles per day, represents no particular place or time period. However, it features elements inspired by West Virginia culture. For example, both the miniature Isaly’s deli and dairy store, as well as the blast furnace representing the heritage of steel-making, offer a nod to the region.

Russell Calmbacher, who works at the model train display, noted those who work there both run and fix the trains. He explained that many trains are Lionel brand, a company that has been in operation for more than 100 years. A repair shop at the back of the exhibit allows for maintenance and storage of donated trains that are yet to be displayed.

A Florida resident, Calmbacher returns to Wheeling during the holiday months to work.

“I enjoy talking to people who come from all over the country,” Calmbacher said. “It’s a lot of work and a lot of maintenance, but it’s fun.”