One of Washington County’s beloved holiday traditions is returning.
The Train Gang of Washington County has kicked off its Christmas run at Washington Crown Center. The train layout will be on display through Dec. 23.
The Train Gang’s miniature display has been a holiday staple for about a decade, delighting children and adults with its 45-foot-long interactive, animated trains and delightful villages.
“It’s a novelty for kids – they grow up with soccer balls or video games. When a toddler or a youngster walks into the room, wide-eyed, and they see the lights and hear the whistles, the magic of the season starts,” said Joe Jack, one of the Train Gang’s founders who, along with a passionate group of train enthusiasts, maintains the display. “And older people say, ‘This reminds me of when I was younger.’”
The Train Gang also is a charitable organization, and it donates all of the proceeds it collects from donations throughout the holiday season to local charities.
Said Jack, “We’re a small club, all of our money goes to charity. We entertain people as good as we can, and we are a charitable effort, so we give back to our community.”
Jack said the permanent train set-up took about two months to create, and Train Gang members spent the days leading up to the kickoff meticulously fine-tuning the displays.
Steve Mitch, a Train Gang member who lives in Wheeling, W.Va., said the display is a labor of love for members.
“My grandfather got me hooked on trains when I was 8,” said Mitch, who worked at Oglebay Park and oversaw the park’s train display for at least 30 years. “Everybody here loves trains and enjoys doing this.”
The vast majority of the trains are Lionel O-gauge trains that date as far back as the 1920s.
Visitors will see steam engines, diesels, passenger trains, freight trains, and more, zipping through several towns and villages. They’ll be treated to elaborate displays that include a circus, a NASA-style rocket launch, football and baseball fields, an incline reminiscent of Pittsburgh’s iconic inclines, and downtown Washington sites including the Observer-Reporter building and WHS Washington Hospital.
And there are plenty of lights, train whistles and the click-clacking of trains along the tracks.
Children can also get a bird’s-eye view of a special, interactive display designed specifically for kids.
“Kids love it. Once they get here, they don’t want to leave,” said member Donald Coulson.
The Train Gang is looking for volunteers.
“If you like this old-fashioned thing that we do for charity around Christmas, then we can use you,” said Jack.
Train display hours vary, and will be closed on Mondays.
The display will be open Nov. 26 and 27 from 2 to 8 p.m. From Nov. 30 to Dec. 19, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 7 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 2 to 8 p.m.