PENNEY FARMS – There was a time before digital technology and electronic toys when toy trains were one of the best gifts a child could receive for Christmas or a birthday.
The longer the track and more cars connected to the train engine, the better. The best ones made sounds and maybe light up as they traveled along the length of plastic and metallic track the child had.
Those days are pretty much gone now, in the wake of smartphones, XBOX, Playstation, Nintendo and all of the other digital marvels children of the 21st century have to amuse themselves.
Some people, however, look back to the simpler times and are still enthralled by the novelties of a bygone era.
Enter the Penney Train club at the Penney Farms Retirement Community.
The club was born in 1999 when the community asked resident Jim Archibald to move his scale toy train setup from his home in Maryland to his new home at Penney Farms.
Archibald remains a member of the club, along with Wayne Kimsey and others. Archibald was originally allotted half of an old house. The toy train setup continued to grow at that location until 2002. The retirement community then gave the train club use of a larger area, which came with air conditioning, restrooms for visitors, storage space and directional lighting.
This became the new home of the train club and would allow for continued growth and additions of more and more trains, tracks and model buildings in addition to the electrical setups that would power everything.
“A bunch of guys put this thing together,” said Archibald. “A number of residents.”
The model trains and tracks are almost entirely comprised of donations.
“People that move in here and find out about it, they say, ‘hey you want some trains?’ and they bring ‘em down here,” said Archibald.
The train club now has multiple displays with toy trains of all sizes. There are six tables elaborately set up to mimic Penney Farms and other small towns. With a flick of a switch, the trains travel throughout their landscapes all made to scale. Some of the tracks traverse the ceiling of the room and go through spaces cut into the walls and come out on the other side to continue traveling until they go through another cut on a different section of the wall before returning to their starting points. Members of the club built the tables on which the trains are setup and run. They are all able to be disassembled and reassembled in another part of the room or at another site completely if desired.
Some antique trains in the collection are the American Flyer and Lionel and Marx.
The train club is open to any visitor but is normally open on Wednesdays from 1-2.30 p.m. between September and May. The men say they spend about 15 hours weekly at the Penney Train Station, most of the day Wednesday and Saturday.
“The most visitors we ever had had was this past November,” said Kimsey.
“We had over 250 visitors in two days,” Archibald said.
Visitors can see the train club outside of normal hours by calling any member of the club whose number is listed inside the door of the club.
“Playing with trains,” Kimsey said when asked about what he gets out of being a member of the club. “It’s like a second childhood!”