Chris Trapizona of Hopewell, and her 2-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, view a model train exhibit built by Paul Linko Jr. on display at the Findlay Township Activity Center as a fundraiser for the West Allegheny Food Pantry.
Matt and Erin Melbert of Imperial and their son, Andrew, 3, view a model train exhibit on display at the Findlay Township Activity Center as a fundraiser for the West Allegheny Food Pantry.
By Linda Wilson Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Eight Lionel trains chugged along on eight separate tracks past a circus scene, snow-covered hills, a Ferris wheel and multiple displays of miniature houses as a new holiday tradition was born at the Findlay Township Activity Center.
Smiles abounded, starting with Paul Linko Jr., owner and operator of the trains, and his wife, Maureen.
“I can’t believe how many people came,” Mrs. Linko said.
It wasn’t uncommon to see three generations of train watchers, as children watched with their parents and grandparents. The kids giggled as they watched the trains, and adults smiled as they witnessed the joy of the children.
Also smiling were the staff and volunteers of the West Allegheny Food Bank, the beneficiary of the train event Friday and Saturday. Admission was $5 per adult, $3 per child or $10 per family.
A total of 300 people came on Friday and 270 had been through the display by mid-afternoon on Saturday, said Darlene Howell, recreation coordinator for the township. She had met the Linko couple at a flea market and saw them at a train display last year in another municipality.
“I like to bring things for the community,” Ms. Howell said. The trains offered a nice event for families, while proceeds benefited local residents who need help feeding their families.
People donated items for raffles, including Mr. Linko, who donated three artificial trees that were decorated by the food bank. Two of the most popular gift baskets were the one that had Penguins game tickets, and a tree with many scratch-off lottery tickets.
By 3 p.m. Saturday, visitors had purchased $500 worth of raffle tickets, said Cindi Quinn, fundraising chairman for the food pantry.
The pantry feeds about 170 families each month, said Geri Hermann, coordinator of the West Allegheny Food Bank. “I think that’s going to get worse because of government cutbacks in the food stamp program,” she said. About 100 volunteers help with the food pantry.
It took about three days to set up the train displays. The trains run year-round in the home of the couple, who recently moved from Findlay to Green Tree.
“Oh, yes! I love it a lot,” said Mr. Linko, who positively beamed as people complimented him on the train displays. He’s been a train enthusiast for more than 50 years. His trains are from 1930-1960.
Each of the eight tables featured a different scene for the trains to traverse on their oval tracks. Many of the set-ups had “winter wonderland” themes, including one with a snow-covered hill with skiers and sled riders.
“I see something different every time I look at the trains,” said Ms. Howell, pointing to the brightly lit Circus Town tent. A closer look revealed that it was the shade of a Tiffany-style lamp.
The display contained other examples of recycling by Mr. Linko. The industrial scene’s smoke stacks were fashioned from cardboard toilet paper rolls topped by smoke made from cotton.
One town had a second stationary train inside the tracks for the Lionel train. The second train was made from needlepoint squares stitched by Mrs. Linko.
The popularity of the first-time event all but ensures the trains will be back in Findlay next year, Ms. Howell said.
A sign by the trains said, “Need a Fund-Raiser? Lionel Train Display Can Help.” Mr. Linko’s sign suggested the fundraisers could benefit churches, food banks and fire companies. He and his wife collect a fee to supplement his income at a local branch of a national chain store, with much of the money collected going to charity.
The Linkos will display their trains from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Green Tree municipal building, 10 West Manilla Ave. That town’s holiday light-up will be from 5 to 7 p.m.
Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-722-0087.
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