New Brighton native Bob Frederick chuckled as he recalled his first experience with model trains.
"Every Thanksgiving after dinner," he said, "me and my dad would move everything out of the dining room, except the carpet and curtains, and replace it with a train platform that stayed up until Easter."
Their father-son project was the start of a lifelong love affair with trains.
Mr. Frederick has been collecting train sets and train memorabilia since he was in first grade and used his life savings at the time -- a total of $19 mostly earned from his paper route -- to buy his first model train set.
Now at age 71, Mr. Frederick is sharing his collection with the public at an exhibit called Trains, Trains, Trains, on display through December at the Beaver Area Heritage Museum in Beaver.
The exhibit features a wide array of model trains from Mr. Frederick's collection, including an old diesel-electric hybrid locomotive designed by the Pennsylvania Railroad.
"They would run on the electric when they were in town to keep the smoke down, then switch to diesel outside of town," he said.
"The Pennsylvania Railroad designed and built many of its own locomotives in Altoona," he said.
In addition to displays of vintage locomotives and train sets from his collection, the exhibit features two platforms with model trains chugging across bridges, through towns and around a model of Beaver's Pittsburgh & Lake Erie freight station, all coordinated by Mr. Frederick, the main operating engineer.
Mr. Frederick pointed out a transformer manufactured in 1925 that he still uses to keep the trains running.
He is still collecting, too.
"I go to train shows, look for ads in the paper, talk to people about trains," Mr. Frederick said about his ongoing quest to add to his collection.
He works part time now, after retiring from his full-time job in metal fabricating. His part-time job is a natural fit -- he is a driver for railroad workers at the Conway rail yards in Beaver County owned by the Norfolk Southern Corp.
The job gives him lots of opportunities to talk about trains with his fellow workers, he said.
"This is the first time we have devoted a display to railroads," said Mark Miner, chairman of the Beaver Area Heritage Museum.
"Bob brought his collection to us at no charge and offered to display it for the public. The neat thing is he's here every weekend to answer questions and share his knowledge about trains," Mr. Miner said.
The exhibit is bringing back some fond memories for John McLaughlin Jr., exhibit chairman.
"From 6 a.m. every 20 minutes [in the 1930s and '40s], a commuter train would leave from the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Station in Beaver for Pittsburgh, so if you missed one train, you didn't have long to wait for another one," he recalled.
During this time, rail service was so good, Mr. Miner said, that many of the top executives, judges and other professional people who worked in Pittsburgh lived in Beaver and commuted on the trains.
While the exhibit is bringing back fond memories for Mr. McLaughlin, he said what he likes most is seeing young people enjoy watching Mr. Frederick put his trains through their paces.
The exhibit includes an element of romance, Mr. Miner said, pointing out a picture of Marilyn Monroe gazing out the back window of a passenger car as it sped past. The young Norma Jean Baker, as she was known while growing up, used to ride the New Jersey Central Railroad to and from school.
The exhibit is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and from 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays at the museum at 1 River Road.
So far, the exhibit has gone off without a hitch, except for one instance during which smoke from one of the engines set off a fire alarm in the museum.
Mr. Frederick smiled as he displayed a bottle of Proto Smoke, a product he uses to produce smoke from the engines as they steam around the display.
"It even comes in different flavors," he said. "You can buy Christmas scent, bacon and eggs and other kinds of scents."
Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.