In the halls of Union Terminal, there's a whole other world - a miniature one as vibrant and thriving as the city outside the rotunda walls. A yearly tradition, alive and well representing a bygone era.
Union Terminal still serves passenger trains, but the thrice weekly Amtrak Cardinal, while great, is a far cry from the building's peak years as a hub of railroad activity. It's home to the Museum Center now, one of the nation's best collections of museums. Down below the Cincinnati history museum is a Queen City tradition, one that has graced the city every holiday season since 1946.
|- Gayle Rotsching at the controls.|
If the hundreds of tiny figurine people praised a deity, it'd be Gayl Rotsching. The world they exist in is controlled and overlooked by him. He maintains the hustle and bustle, the ebb and flow of the miniature city. Gayl and countless other volunteers have poured their heart and soul into a train set that puts the one around your Christmas tree to shame. They maintain a tradition that will be on display for the 67th year in Cincinnati: the Duke Energy Holiday Trains.
The entire display is approximately 37.5' x 47.5', one of the largest in the world. Over 1,000 feet of track has been laid which carries 300 vehicles and 50 locomotives. Hundreds of figurines dot the snowy landscape which features nearly 200 buildings and evokes the feeling of an idyllic, bygone time in American history - when rail was king. The attention detail is absolutely incredible, the entire set up isn't just a static display, but a work of art.
Gayle was kind enough to let me mount my iPhone to one of the rail cars - capturing a slow motion, high def and up close look at the details of the display as it rode along the tracks.
The display traces it's roots back to a 1935 contest held by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and Model Craftsman Magazine. The contest called for entrants to construct model locomotives that not only looked real, but operated in a lifelike manner as well. By 1937, B&O was placing the models in a grand public display. For the next ten years, the display traveled up and down the B&O lines making stops in department stores, veteran hospitals and communities along the routes. The Army Corps of Engineers even used the model to practice signaling and operation should they have to take over real rail lines during World War II.
By 1945, the display was set up in Hutzler's Department Store for the holidays in Baltimore. There it was viewed by Ed Hodges, a public relations employee of the Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company. Ed arranged for the display to come to Cincinnati in 1946, where it debuted in CG&E's lobby and returned every holiday season for 64 years.
CG&E became Duke, B&O is now CSX and Union Terminal houses more museum goers than it does train passengers, but fate has brought the display back to a train station. In 2011, Duke Energy gifted the trains to the Cincinnati Museum Center where the display now operates as part of the larger "holiday junction" festivities which include a railroad photography gallery, the "Toys Through Time" exhibit and much, much more.
When you watch the model trains go by and take time to look at the fine details, you become immersed in the miniature world that Gayle controls. It has a life of its own in the motion it conveys, the scenes it portrays and the tradition that it carries on.
Holiday Junction at the Cincinnati Museum Center runs from Nov. 8, 2013 - Jan. 5, 2014. Admission is free to Museum Center members and to Duke Energy customers with a special confirmation code. More information on tickets, hours and the display can be found at the Museum Center's website here.
A special thanks goes out to Lauren Bishop, Gayl Rotsching and the other train volunteers who keep this Cincinnati tradition alive year after year.
|- "Instagramer" @Stuku captures a train passing by.|