Subscribe Today

Christmas trains are family affairs

The model train and Christmas village display at Glades Building Supply in Marlinton invites visitors to reminisce about the past when train sets were part of the Christmas decorations in homes. L.D. Bennett photo

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

For those who remember back to the 40s, 50s and 60s, “Christmas trains” are a big part in our holiday memories.

It was all the rage to have a train set under the Christmas tree.

And if you couldn’t have the train set under the tree because of canine, feline or pesky younger sibling interference, the train would most likely have been set up in the “club basement.”

“Club basement” was the fancy term we used for those glamorous homes featuring basement rooms which were carpeted and had a couch and a heater in them.

The kids might even have had a ping-pong table down there, and the dad might have had a billiard table so that he could entertain his buddies.

People who had club basements could often afford a nifty train set, and if that was the case, the billiard or ping pong table often had to do double duty during the holidays so that the train set could be displayed.

It was a fortunate family indeed who not only had a train set, but also had a display table devoted to the trains and the miniature tableaus through which they traveled, so that ping pong or billiards might continue unabated.

There are two really nifty family Christmas train sets on public display here in Marlinton this year.

“Having the train set up is fun, and it really brings back memories,” Mark Strauss says with a smile. He hasn’t had it set up for 10 years because when he and Jamie moved to Marlinton 10 years ago, their house didn’t have room for a 5′ x 9′ train table. “But it fits right in here at the Clean Cow!” he said.

Mark Strauss, who, with his wife, Jamie Strauss, owns the Clean Cow Laundry and Thrift Shop, has set up his family train set at the Clean Cow at 820 Second Avenue.

The train collection began when Mark’s dad, Clifford Strauss, bought the “O” gauge train in 1940.

It includes four other trains, all added by his father after Mark came along and later, by Mark, when his own son, Skylar, came along.

The other trains were collected by father and son in the 60s and the 70s.

The red, white and blue train set caught my eye.

The Strausses bought it in 1976, when it was issued to celebrate America’s Bicentennial.

It has two engines, three cars and a caboose, and its name is the “Spirit of ‘76.”

“Having the train set up is fun, and it really brings back memories,” Strauss said with a smile.

“I haven’t had it set up for ten years, because when Jamie and I moved to Marlinton ten years ago, our house didn’t have a place for the five-by-nine table.

“But it just fits in here at the Clean Cow.”

“I grew up in Allentown, PA, where everyone used the Pennsylvania Dutch word for platform when talking about train tables, so my dad called this train table a train putz,’” Strauss laughs.

“The table was originally just a single sheet of plywood, but as we kept adding trains, we had to make the table bigger.”

As the trains travel around on their tracks, there are miniature people going about their daily routines, a coal loader, tunnel, trees and buildings all situated on a green cover, which is a special paper, familiar to train hobbyists, and meant to look like grass.

Customers seem to really enjoy the Christmas train set.

Someone came in the other day and took a video of the trains to send to his father. A retired CSX and Amtrack conductor from Huntington, who recently moved here, stopped in to do laundry and was happy to talk trains for a while.

Strauss says that his family back in Allentown, especially his father and his son, are happy that the family train collection is back in action.

There’s another Christmas train to see on the other side of town.

Randy and Teresa Sharp’s sons, Austin and Cody, played with the family’s train set when they were young. These days, Glades’ customers and their children get to enjoy the train when they visit the store around Christmastime. From left: the Sharp family: Randy, Ruth, Teresa and Cody. Not pictured, Robert (camera shy) and Austin (away at college). L.D. Bennett photos

Anyone who visited Glades Building Supply recently couldn’t have helped but notice the big three-tiered, wooden platform Christmas tree holding the Sharp family’s train

Ice skaters twirl, carolers sing and the 20 year old train, with its six cars, runs around a track through a charming village populated with exquisite houses and shops that evoke a scene from Victorian England.

Randy Sharp tells me that the unique “train village tree” is about 25 years old.

The train set was bought for Randy and Teresa’s sons, Cody and Austin, many years ago.

To display the train, Randy’s dad, Robert Sharp, built the unusual triple decker Christmas tree.

The more than 20 buildings sitting around the three wooden levels are Dickensville Village collectibles which Randy’s mom, Ruth, has been collecting for many years.

The train set has been set up every other year at Glades since the Sharp family has had the store.

And, it was on view even before that.

“We had it set up in the old store lots of times, and it was set up for the kids at home before that,” Ruth said.

“People really seem to like it, and some people make a special trip in to see it,” Randy added.

“Of course, the kids especially get a kick out of it.

“And we like sharing it with everyone.”

more recommended stories