Model trains run at the Sheldon Museum station
MIDDLEBUY — For the 25th year, the Henry Sheldon Museum of Middlebury hosts its annual holiday model train exhibit, which delights visitors of all ages. Volunteer engineers will operate the three levels of trains beginning Tuesday, Nov. 29. To confirm hours that the trains are operative, call the museum at 802-388-2117 or visit the Museum’s website at www.henrysheldonmuseum.org.
Each year during the holidays, the Henry Sheldon Museum hosts a six-week run of the model trains. Children visit the display with their parents and grandparents, and many adults absent of children visit to recall the seasonal wonder of model trains and train travel. The founder of the Museum, Henry Sheldon (1821-1907), was himself a train enthusiast and anxiously awaited train travel to commence in Western Vermont. As reported in his biography:
“Not until a week before Christmas of 1849 did the first locomotive puff over the Mount Holly pass, on through Rutland and into Middlebury to the cacophony of the hooting of the train whistle, to the ringing of half a dozen clamorous church bells, and to the cheering of throngs of residents at the station. Henry Sheldon’s hurrahs merged with those of the general public. With the least possible delay, he sold his store and before the end of January 1850 was riding the rails as Route Agent for the U.S. Postal Department, between Burlington and Boston.”
His railroad experience was short lived, as his biography continues:
“Since the velocity of the train exceeded by a narrow margin the pace of a well-teamed stagecoach, and stops were required at every hamlet en route, the run between Burlington and Boston occupied the best part of a day and evening, leaving little time for the mail agents’ recuperation between trips. He was granted every third week off, but the schedule proved so disorienting to Henry Sheldon that he even discontinued keeping his diary. A few months of railroading was long enough to exhaust his enthusiasm for that field.”
The popularity of passenger and freight trains soon led to a model train bonanza. In recognition of its appeal and Henry Sheldon’s early train employment, a group of Sheldon Museum supporters established an unofficial Model Train Club and installed an exhibit at the Museum in 1992. Early club members included Peter White, Dana Myrick, Bob Andrews, Warren Frost, Bob Rand, Al Stiles, Chip Stokes and “T” Tall. They designed, fabricated and built the scenic platforms on which the tracks were laid, purchased or were given model train cars. Each year new model train enthusiasts of all ages joined in the effort as volunteer exhibit installers or engineers, from eight years of age to eighty-five.
The train display, traditionally on view from Thanksgiving until to mid-January welcomes up to 1,000 visitors each season. The display has grown and the positive responses by enthusiastic visitors continue. The display now stands three levels high, with tracks running Lionel O gauge trains, Lionel 027 gauge trains and an upper track running HO trains. The backdrop of the green mountains painted by local artist Gayl Braisted adds atmosphere.
A new 2016 feature to the layout is “Gabe the Lamplighter.” Youngsters will be delighted as they watch Gabe climb a tower and turn on the floodlights! In 2015 a Lionel milk car delivering milk cans during a stop at the replica of the Middlebury Station was added to the trains. The station was handcrafted by Michael Rainville, proprietor of Maple Landmark in Middlebury, which produces wooden toys sold throughout the world.
Other neighborhood architectural gems, bridges, tunnels and geographical destinations were fashioned by local artists, including a mirrored skating pond where 19th century miniature metal skaters frolic, a replica of Battell Hill where animals from many nations graze, and a transplanted Ferris Wheel and merry-go-round representing the Addison County Fair.
Historic photos of locomotives, passenger and freight cars that whizzed through the Vermont country side adorn the walls of the model train exhibit room. The engineers adjust the overhead lighting in the exhibit room as day passes to night and the whistle on the engines sound as they approach crossings and pass through Vermont villages.
The 25th year of the display continues to captivate audiences. Come and enjoy the ride during the Sheldon’s Model Train exhibit.
The Henry Sheldon Museum is located at One Park Street in downtown Middlebury across from the Ilsley Library. Holiday Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Dec.18, from 12-4 p.m. The trains will run through Jan. 14, 2017. Volunteer engineers will run the trains Tuesday to Friday from 1 to 4 p.m.; Saturdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 18, from 1-3 p.m. Refer to the Sheldon’s website for an up-to-date schedule or call the Sheldon ahead of time to confirm that the engineer is present. The Sheldon will be closed Dec. 24, 25, 26, and will reopen on Tuesday, Dec. 27. Regular admission to the Museum is $5 adults; $3 youth (6-18); $4.50 seniors; $12 family. For more information, call the Henry Sheldon Museum, 388-2117 or visit www.henrysheldonmuseum.org.