Sunday, February 22, 2004

Laura and Paul Johnson of Alexandria had one thing on their minds yesterday — getting their 4-year-old son, Kyle, to the Lyceum in time for him to see more than a dozen model trains run on two large indoor tracks.

“He couldn’t wait to get here,” Mrs. Johnson said of Kyle, who was standing on the crouching leg of his father so he could see a 2-inch-high train engine pulling 16 cars.

“It’s a great father-and-son thing,” the U.S. Park Police helicopter pilot said, as she looked over at her son and smiled.

The Johnsons were among hundreds of model train enthusiasts who crowded into the second floor of the Lyceum in Alexandria’s Old Town yesterday for the semiannual model train show. More than 400 fans visited the show on Saturday, Lyceum employees said.

The two toy train tracks ran about 55 yards around the perimeter of the hall. More tracks were on toy sidings, where other trains waited to be prodded by remote controls.

The various scenes along the way included a countryside of grazing elephants and giraffes, a forest full of metal and space creatures, a golf course and an English castle and towers.

The biggest hit among children was the Thomas the Tank Engine, a model for a cartoon. Yesterday, Thomas was towing two yellow cars.

“What are the names of the two cars that Thomas is pulling?” called out Mark Andersen, coordinator for Potomac Module Crew, which organizes the show.

“Annabel,” answered a little girl.

“Clarabel,” answered a little boy.

“That’s right,” declared Mr. Andersen, 49, of Annandale, who during the week teaches shop classes in Woodbridge.

Mr. Andersen said he has been hooked on model trains “since I was a little kid.” The Module Crew, a member of the National Model Railroad Association, came to the Lyceum about 7 a.m. Saturday to set up for the two-day show.

The hall was packed with enthusiasts both days.

“I’ve been into model railroads for 60 years,” said Tim Costello, 66, of Arlington, a member of the Northern Virginia Model Railroaders, who was helping keep the tiny trains on track, and at times operating a remote control.

Suddenly, a bell sounded, signaling a problem with one of the trains.

“One train came off the tracks,” someone called out. A Module Crew member rushed to the train and gently put it back in its place.

At one end of the hall, two little girls worked on a coloring book full of trains. Nearby was a 5-foot oval of tracks with a model train and three cars that children — and at times a parent — operated from an adjacent switch control.

Kyle’s eyes lighted up as he took over the controls. He turned the red switch to the left, and the engine went forward, at full speed. Kyle swiftly turned the switch to the right. The engine immediately went backward.

“These are set up at eye level for kids,” Mr. Johnson said. “At eye level, it makes them more real.”

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