Toy Train Expo chugs back into town
“Celebrating the magic and nostalgia of toy trains” has been and always is the main focus of the annual Will Huffman Toy Train Expo. Now in its 27th year, the Expo returns Nov. 18 and 19 at three neighboring locations: Park Place, 800 West Fourth St.; the nearby Thomas T. Taber Museum, 858 West Fourth St.; and, in between, at the Peter Herdic Transportation Museum, 810 Nichols Place. This “premier family event” is held in conjunction with Preservation Williamsport’s Victorian Christmas weekend.
Starting in 1990 by Will Huffman, a former fourth grade teacher and lifelong lover of trains, the event has grown larger over the years, yet remains true to the vision of its founder: to provide a chance to “relive a less complicated world of wonder” and to be “a gift for the community for children of all ages.”
By the time the young and young-at-heart visitors step into the Toy Train Expo, the track has all been laid, the boxcars and gondolas coupled, and the locomotives fired up and tested. These trains of all scale and size, make and description, along with the accompanying layouts of various shape, detail and complexity, have been carefully transported and set up by their owners, solely for the enjoyment of the public.
The Expo features trains from the largest “G” scale to the smallest “Z” and “T” gauges, and everything in between. This year’s exhibitors and helpers include Max Ameigh; Mark and Doris Anderman; Pat and Laura Breen; John and Mary Clees; Ken DiRocco; Tyler Fenderson; Brett and Wendy Hinkal; Ron and Barbara Hinkal; Mike Hokkanen; Luke and Todd Hower; Eric and Linda Huffman; John Hunsinger; Larry Keller; Ralph and Peggy Keller; Paul Karichner; William, Bill, and John Lantz; Tom and Ginny Martino; John Nevill, Jr.; Glen Paulhamus; Jack Seely; John and Dusteen Spoon; Dick Wagner; Cletus Waldman; Ed Watson; and Lloyd Wurster.
Trains and working layouts are displayed throughout various rooms, nooks and corridors of the festively decorated Park Place. Completed in 1865 and originally known as the Herdic House, the ornate former railroad hotel was commissioned by Peter Herdic and designed by Eber Culver.
Less than a block away, several more operating layouts are displayed in the Community Room of the Thomas T. Taber Museum of the Lycoming County Historical Society, the original site of the Expo for its first 15 years. In addition, the LaRue Shempp Model Train Collection, housed in the museum’s lower level, also is available for viewing.
Halfway between the Taber Museum and Park Place, the Peter Herdic Transportation Museum occupies the last vestige of the once bustling passenger depot and express freight station of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Immediately behind the building is a fully restored 1949 Pullman “Colonial Series” parlor car. Self-guided tours of the railcar are offered throughout the event.
The multitude of exhibits that make up the Toy Train Expo come alive with the sights, sounds, and smells of everything trains. Always a favorite holiday tradition, the space is transformed into “the land of smiles, wide eyes, and half open mouths of children.”
Many of the exhibitors say that to see the expressions of pure joy and excitement on the faces of the youngest visitors is what makes all the work to prepare for the Expo worthwhile.
It is not unusual to hear from parents or grandparents that their child doesn’t want to leave the experience. Many spend several hours there between the three locations. Others attend both days.
The partnership with the Taber Museum and Peter Herdic Transportation Museum that began with the 25th anniversary in 2015 was so popular that is has continued since then.
Interactive aspects of the Toy Train Expo include the popular locomotive races, which allow two junior engineers to simultaneously traverse opposite lengths of track to the finish (without flying off!). A Thomas the Train wooden set provided by English’s Model Railroad Supply lets the youngest visitors have a chance to get hands-on with trains.
A large collection of “steam engines,” vintage train related photos, Expo artifacts, and a brief history of the old hotel and station complement the displays.
Also making their rounds during the weekend, and available for photos, are Santa and Mrs. Claus, the Conductor and Scrooge.
Since Will Huffman’s passing in 2011, the Expo tradition has been carried on by his sons, Eric and Bruce, with help from the many exhibitors, volunteers, donors, sponsors and family.
The 27th Annual Will Huffman Toy Train Expo is open at all three locations from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 19. The event is free for children and a small donation for adults. For more information, visit www.toytrainexpo.org or search for it on Facebook.