The annual Cincinnati Holiday Train Expo is back for its 75th anniversary. The accompanying Duke Energy and Holiday Junction holiday trains open on Friday.
The exhibit began in 1946 as part of a public relations effort by the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad. It is one of the largest portable models in the world.
Ross Wharfield is a trainmaster coordinator, which means he helps set up the annual display and runs the trains. He joined the team in 2009 and remembers visiting trains as a child and later bringing his own children.
“I feel like I’m passing the story on to people,” he says. “We are the keepers; we pass this on for the next generation to enjoy as much as previous generations passed on for me to enjoy.”
Although the trains now have a permanent home at the Cincinnati Museum Center, it still takes several months to prepare them each season.
“Back in our workshop we have two gentlemen whose only duty is to repair and maintain the equipment because most – I would say 95% – of the trains there were built in the mid-1930s…and there’s nowhere to go to get parts. You can’t go to Hobby Lobby and say, ‘Give me a part for a 1937 locomotive.'”
When parts break, conductors must make the replacement parts themselves. They also steer the trains manually. Wharfield says the set was used as a training tool for the military as they prepared people to go to Europe and help run full-size train systems after World War II.
Wharfield enjoys reminiscing about people who also visited trains as children and watching young people experiencing them for the first time.
“I really, really love seeing the wonder on the faces of the little kids…it’s such a kick and makes you so happy to see them enjoying it.”
Fun Facts Courtesy of Cincinnati Museum Center
- At 36 ½ by 47 ½ feet, the Duke Energy Holiday Trains are one of the largest portable models in the world.
- The trains are authentic “O” gauge, which means a quarter inch on the model equals one foot on a real train.
- Wagons, tracks and buildings are 1/48 life size.
- Although the trains may appear to be running slowly, they move at actual scale speed. If a model train completes the loop in one minute, it is traveling at 60 mph.
- During the holiday season, the trains will travel over 100,000 scale miles.
What to know if you leave
“Holiday Junction with Duke Energy Holiday Trains” is open from November 12, 2021 to January 3, 2022. (Santa Claus arrives on Friday, November 26.)
Museum hours are Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with some extended hours.
Tickets are limited and timed entry is required, as are masks, due to pandemic protocols. Tickets are $10 each for adults and children or $5 with the purchase of any other museum experience. Admission is free for CMC members.