AUGUSTA — Matt Wagner said he grew up with trains and has had four generations of model railroaders in his family, so it’s no wonder the hobby fascinates his two sons.

Wagner, of Knox, took sons John and Ansel to the Maine State Museum in Augusta on Friday for its holiday train show.

“You’d have to work pretty hard to find a kid who’s not fascinated by trains,” Wagner said while John, 4, and Ansel, 2, took turns operating a Thomas the Train display. “It’s what I grew up with and now my oldest son has a layout, and my dad still has a layout in his garage attic.”

Wagner and his boys were among the many families checking out layouts from the Maine 3 Railers O-Gauge Model Railroad Club and the Great Falls Model Railroad Club on display in the museum lobby.

The Maine 3 Railers, a group of about 120 paying members, showed off a layout consisting of more than 150 feet of track, complete with buildings, houses, terrain and Maine-specific railroad cars.

Club secretary Ken Thorson, of Topsham, said the sense of nostalgia is a big reason why so many adults are interested in model trains.

“Almost everybody had a train running around their tree at Christmas,” Thorson said. “We love model trains and this is a way for us to do something bigger than we’d normally have in our houses.”

Thorson said the club travels to various places throughout the state, including nursing homes, libraries and hospitals; and no matter where they are, people come up to club members and share stories about their interest in model trains.

“They always regale us with stories about their dad or their uncles and how much they loved trains when they were small,” he said. “We draw the big crowds during the summer and over the holidays at the Maine State Museum.”

One of the more unusual aspects of the Maine 3 Railers layout is the train cars of Maine businesses and companies such as Reny’s, Moxie, Central Maine Power, Hancock Lumber and Downeast Energy. Over the years, Thorson said, the club has asked those companies if it was OK to have train cars made that represented those businesses.

“If we went to shows across the country, nobody else would have these cars,” Thorson said. The next car the club plans to make is one representing Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections.

Joshua and Angela Haiss brought their son Lincoln, 5, from Gorham with some relatives to see the trains. Joshua said he wasn’t interested in trains when he was a boy, but his son has an interest because he likes to be in control of the trains.

Angela Haiss said playing with trains is a better activity than having their son sitting in front of an iPad or TV screen.

On the other side of the lobby, the Great Falls club, based in Auburn, had several displays, including one showcasing train engines in HO scale, which is about 1:87 scale and is considered the most popular scale of model railway in the world. The Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway Museum, in Alna, had a display and handouts advertising its Victorian Christmas special event Dec. 17, which features free steam and diesel train rides, sleigh rides, holiday decorations, refreshments and a visit from Santa Claus.

The 31-year-old club has almost 140 members, according to club secretary Paul Lodge. The club owns its own building in Auburn and hosts several events throughout the year, including children’s birthday parties and a holiday train show.

Deputy Museum Director Sheila McDonald said the train show has been around more than 10 years and is always one of the most well-attended events.

“It is so popular and we get such great support from the volunteers from the two clubs,” McDonald. “We look forward to it and it’s really great.”

McDonald isn’t sure why children love trains, but she knows that when children come into the museum, they are drawn to the large train engine next to the admission desk.

Conrad Berthiaume, of Old Orchard Beach, has been a member of the Maine 3 Railers for several years, and he thinks children are fascinated by the movement and the sound of the model trains.

“They’re just mesmerized,” Bertiaume said. “Whenever we have a show, inevitably there’ll be a child who stands next the tracks for hours and just be mesmerized by the motion and the fact that something is coming at them that then goes away.”

The train show continues from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Admission to the show and the museum is free.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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