Whew! The 2015 Traverse City Festival of Trains is a go!

And it will be the same time (Dec. 12-31) and the same place (the old Carnegie Library building on Sixth Street.)

When the library building underwent a change of tenants this summer, there was talk that the hugely popular holiday exhibit was going to be canceled or have to find a new home. Fortunately, the Great Lakes Children’s Museum has taken over management for the two-week display of miniature trains and layouts, which draws an estimated 7,000 visitors each year, and it won’t have to move.

“The Museum is excited to be part of such a well-known and anticipated community event,” said Children’s Museum President Matt Missias.

Even children who've never seen or heard a real train in their lives watch in wide-eyed fascination as these miniature marvels go through their paces, surrounded by 4,000 square feet of elaborate displays that evoke the sights and sounds of a vanished American landscape.

The festival is the brainchild of the Northern Michigan Railroad Club, a group of committed model train enthusiasts who work all year to maintain and improve the hundreds of tiny buildings, landscapes and cars that make up the six working train layouts on display. Each year since the festival began in 1991, they have redesigned the exhibits around different themes – and one of their most popular annual features is a “swap meet” where railroad aficionados can exchange gear and paraphernalia. (This year’s meet will be held Dec. 12-13.)

Over 400 people a day line up in the stately former library – now home to the Crooked Tree Arts Center – to watch the trains. Many are youngsters on school field trips or visiting with their families, but a substantial number are adults indulging in a bit of historical nostalgia. The allure of model trains spans entire generations, especially during the Christmas season.

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Although Traverse City hasn't had regular train service for more than a generation, railroads are deeply interwoven into our history. Trains hauled lumber from our forests and produce from our farms, and they helped launch the local tourist industry. (In fact, the computer-generated steam locomotive featured in the film "The Polar Express" was modeled on the PM 1225, a real-life engine that ran between Grand Rapids and Traverse City during the 1940s on the long-vanished Pere Marquette Railroad.)

The Crooked Tree Arts Center is located at 322 Sixth St., in the city’s historic Central Neighborhood. Hours will be 10 am to 6 pm Monday through Saturday, and noon to 4 pm on Sunday. On Dec. 24 and Dec 31, hours will be 10 am to 2 pm, and the exhibit will be closed on Christmas Day.

Admission is $5 per person (4 and under free). Festival Household Passes, which allow for unlimited entry for two adults and children all living in the same household, are also available. Festival Household Passes can be purchased in advance for $25 through a web link on www.greatlakeskids.org\trains . Household passes purchased at the door are $30. Groups of 10 students or more (and their chaperones) are welcome – reservations are required in advance. Information on scheduling reservations and volunteering can be found online.

Here’s a nice bonus, too: anyone purchasing an individual admission will receive a coupon for a dollar off their admission to the Great Lakes Children’s Museum. “If it’s been more than a year since you have visited the Children’s Museum, there are LOTS of new things to check out,” said Missias.

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